TAMPA, FL – 21 September – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network -…

TAMPA, FL – 21 September – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The Department of Justice today announced more than $84 million in DNA grants nationwide as part of President Bush’s DNA Initiative, Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology. The DNA Initiative is a five-year, $1 billion commitment to improve the nation’s capacity to use DNA evidence by eliminating casework and convicted offender backlogs; funding research and development; improving crime lab capacity; providing training for all stakeholders in the criminal justice system; and conducting testing to identify the missing. In addition, $13.6 million is being awarded to improve criminal justice forensic services.

“DNA has proven to be one of the most remarkable crime-fighting tools of the 21st century,” said Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. “With DNA evidence, law enforcement can solve rapes, murders and even burglaries, and can bring much needed closure for a family whose loved one is missing and is not found or identified. Through the President’s DNA Initiative, victims and their families can know that justice will be served.”

Newer DNA analysis techniques can yield results from biological evidence invisible to the naked eye, even in cases where the evidence is contaminated. Today, police departments throughout the country are reexamining unsolved rape and homicide cases using advanced DNA methods. Newly-processed DNA profiles are uploaded into the FBI database, CODIS, so the data can be compared with DNA profiles derived from convicted offenders and evidence samples already in the national system. Matches are confirmed by obtaining and analyzing a second sample from the suspect and then reported to law enforcement. More information about President Bush’s DNA Initiative can be found at www.dna.gov .

While DNA technology is helping to solve crimes and exonerate the innocent across the country, many public crime laboratories are not fully equipped to handle the increased demand for DNA testing. Some laboratories have large backlogs of unanalyzed DNA samples from convicted offenders and crime scenes, which can significantly delay criminal investigations and the administration of justice. According to a study funded by the Department of Justice, an estimated 542,700 cases either have biological evidence still in the possession of local law enforcement or backlogged at forensic crime laboratories. With these grants, the Department of Justice has ensured that local jurisdictions, which often have the greatest DNA backlogs, can directly benefit from federal funds.

The grants will be administered by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research, development and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice. Nationwide, NIJ has awarded $18 million for DNA casework; $30.3 million for DNA capacity building for crime lab improvement; $4 million for DNA training; $7.7 million for DNA research and development; $1.5 million for DNA testing for missing persons; and $20.6 million for convicted offender testing. NIJ will also provide $13.6 million for Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants that can be applied to improving non-DNA forensic services. This funding represents the largest amount of money provided by the Department to support state and local forensic efforts.

Earlier in September, the Department of Justice awarded $1.5 million to the University of North Texas that will be used to help identify the missing and unidentified dead recovered as a result of Hurricane Katrina. It also awarded $4.4 million in DNA Initiative and other forensic service funds to states affected by Hurricane Katrina: Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. These funds will be used to assist recovery of crime laboratory capacity and identification of remains.

As part of the President’s DNA Initiative, the Department awarded $2 million to five jurisdictions as part of a pilot program to help solve high-volume property crimes. Evidence now suggests that DNA evidence may assist law enforcement in solving these crimes and can prevent future property crimes and more serious offenses. The Department of Justice has selected five sites to participate in a $2 million, 18-month pilot project that will assess the cost-effectiveness of expanding the collection of DNA evidence from high volume serious crimes to property crimes, particularly burglary. The five sites are: Denver, Colo. ($417,207); Orange County, Calif. ($495,505); Los Angeles, Calif. ($436,077); Phoenix, Ariz. ($500,000); and Topeka, Kan. ($141,500).

All five locations will have coordinated teams from law enforcement, the forensic science community and the district attorney’s office to implement the program locally. The five sites will be evaluated to determine how much DNA contributes to solving property crimes.

Assistant Attorney General Schofield cited the pioneering efforts of two Florida counties, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, to use DNA analysis to solve many types of crime. These counties developed programs that identified cases of all types-from burglaries to car theft to robberies and other violent crimes-in which DNA evidence might be present but police had yet to identify a suspect. When the DNA profiles from these cases were loaded into state and national DNA databases, matches to known criminals were made in 40 to 50 percent of the cases.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP is headed by an Assistant Attorney General and comprises five component bureaus and two offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and the Office for Victims of Crime, as well as the Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education and the Community Capacity Development Office, which incorporates the Weed and Seed strategy and OJP’s American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Desk. More information can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov .

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