Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Dangers of Crime Lab Backlogs

As states around the country struggle with budget shortfalls this year, law enforcement agencies and crime labs have felt the pinch. And when crime labs don’t get the funding they need, cold cases go unsolved and wrongful convictions become more likely.

California has at least 12,000 untested rape kits in storage facilities, including at least 1,218 from unsolved cases where the perpetrator was a stranger to the victim, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. Testing of this evidence could clear the innocent and find true perpetrators before they have a chance to commit another crime. 

A new audit in Illinois found that the state’s DNA backlog skyrocketed in recent years under Gov. Rod Blagojevich as the state used money meant for forensic testing on other law enforcement projects.

Evidence preservation can also suffer during a budget crunch. One New Jersey police department is storing crime scene evidence in unused jail cells. Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti says evidence preservation is “one of the most grossly neglected areas of policing.”

As regular readers know, the National Academy of Sciences released a report in February calling for the creation of a new federal agency that would direct comprehensive research and evaluation in the forensic sciences, establish scientifically validated standards and oversee their consistent application nationwide.

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