For most of the past 30 years, DNA testing has been used only in the most serious criminal cases such as murder and rape. Today, as DNA testing has become faster and cheaper, and offender databases have grown, you might expect police and prosecutors to start using DNA testing on lesser crimes such as burglary and robbery, drug dealing, aggravated assault, or domestic violence. However, given that both state and federal crime labs have large DNA testing backlogs, non-violent offenders currently have a relatively low chance of being caught or convicted on the basis of DNA evidence. This could change over the next few years, though, as DNA testing becomes even more efficient.
Basic Facts on DNA Testing
Since 1987, when the first U.S. criminal was convicted on the basis of DNA evidence, the science has rapidly advanced. Originally, DNA testing required a sample of blood or semen the size of a quarter, then fell to the size of a dime, then to anything visible with the naked eye. Today, DNA testing requires just a few skin cells, commonly referred to as “touch DNA.” DNA testing can be performed on almost any substance shed by the body, including blood, saliva, semen, hair, or skin cells.
In the 1990s, police could collect DNA from a crime scene, but could only compare it to suspects they identified through other means. Today, police can compare a DNA profile found at a crime scene to the FBI’s national DNA database, CODIS, which contains the DNA of over 13 million offenders. The database grows daily, as every state now has laws mandating DNA collection from people who have been arrested or convicted of certain crimes.
The Illinois Criminal Code (730 ILCS 5/5-4-3) mandates the collection of DNA samples from every person convicted of a felony or an offense requiring sex offender registration, plus every individual designated as sexually dangerous or sexually violent. The law also allows, after a judicial probable cause hearing, collection of DNA from people arrested for first-degree murder, home invasion, or criminal sexual assault. Such DNA samples are automatically expunged if the arrestee is not convicted.
Crime Labs Struggle to Keep Up with DNA Testing Demands
The Illinois State Police (ISP) crime labs had roughly 5,000 cases awaiting DNA testing at the start of 2019, a backlog of about two years. Federal crime labs were equally strained, reporting a backlog of 169,000 cases.
The state is also looking into Rapid DNA testing, a relatively new technology being deployed by the FBI in 2019. It can process a DNA sample in just two hours rather than the usual days or weeks.
As long as crime labs remain backlogged, murder and rape cases will continue to get the highest priority. At least for now, people accused of crimes such as theft or battery should be more concerned about surveillance video evidence than DNA evidence.
An Experienced Will County Criminal Defense Lawyer
In a criminal case, the prosecution has to prove every element of their case with evidence. If you have been charged with a crime in Will County, you need a knowledgeable Joliet criminal defense lawyer who knows how to read the evidence and find the gaps that can help you avoid a conviction. Call the Law Offices of Jack L. Zaremba at 815-740-4025 for a free consultation.