DNA ‘Hits’ Bring Rapid Rise in Convictions

Most of the time, CBS’ Crime Scene Investigators paints a high tech (if not-entirely-accurate) picture of the criminal justice system.

But here’s one technique law enforcement in Washington has been successful in implementing, a la CSI — a growing database of felons’ DNA that is putting more of them in prison.

There were 39 “hits” — DNA that was found at a crime scene that matched a felon in their database — in February, according to the Washington State Patrol, which operates the state’s crime lab.

The state averaged just nine “hits” per month in 2007.

State law requires those convicted of felonies and some gross misdemeanors to provide a DNA sample to the crime lab. And seeing as felons usually earn more than one trip to the gray bar hotel, having the sample on file can “bring a speedy closure to those later, more serious cases,” said WSP Chief John Batiste.

The crime lab uses a database called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and can be utilized when some kind of bodily fluids are left at a crime scene.

Here’s a couple local cases where some felons left their bodily blueprints behind: a Port Orchard man who robbed a restaurant but had left his DNA on a straw; and a NK man who burglarized a north end home but had put a few beers back while he was there.

The state patrol says that while not all who commit lesser crimes graduate to more substantial felonies, the DNA can identify a suspect and give a jury a pretty fail-safe reason to issue a conviction.

It’s also not hard to get a DNA sample. No need to get a fingerprint or blood sample; simple a swab from an inmate’s mouth does the trick. Nonetheless, there’s a 50,000 sample backlog at the lab, but a National Institute of Justice grant will pay for much of the backlog to go to a private lab for testing and identification, the state patrol said.

There are more than 5.3 million convicted offender “profiles” in a national database. One of the oldest cold case homicides ever solved was a Seattle murder from 1968, which relied upon the DNA swabbed from a convicted felon.

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