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November 28, 2016

Opinion: Update law so labs can use Rapid DNA to solve crimes faster

  • Elected Body
  • Genetics/Genomics

The Salt Lake Tribune – Over the past 26 years of my career as a forensic scientist, I have seen science evolve and advance at a lightning speed. The pace at which these new technologies are entering the marketplace and the unprecedented help they provide law enforcement has been instrumental in serving the justice system. However, in some instances, the science has outpaced laws that determine which tools should or should not be used, leaving good technology idle. Rapid DNA is one of those technologies.

Fortunately, Utah's labs are state of the art and are ready for these new technologies. As far back as 1994, I testified in front of the Utah Legislature, encouraging them to adopt the new CODIS system, which they wisely did. I find myself again in a position of needing to inform our national leaders about a new tool that is available to solve criminal cases across the country — the Rapid DNA instrument.

These instruments were developed to assist with processing DNA in Iraq and Afghanistan and proved successful to the troops in their mission to identify potential terrorists. As with many efforts at the Department of Defense, the technology can be transitioned to law enforcement and has the potential to be an exceptional investigative tool.

Rapid DNA can help Utah law enforcement, as well as law enforcement elsewhere in the country, get results within two hours. This quick response allows officials to efficiently determine if a suspect is connected or not connected to a specific crime. This new technique will allow the option of DNA testing earlier in the investigative process, thus expediting the wheels of justice while saving the taxpayer money.

As with other technologies in forensic science, using this tool will require changes in the DNA Identification Act of 1994. It will require an update of the standards and procedures to allow the use of the instruments and to authorize criminal justice agencies to upload profiles to the FBI's CODIS database.

While Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced and got S. 2348, the Rapid DNA Act of 2015, passed, which would help remove the barriers to the utilization of this revolutionizing instrument, it has not cleared the U.S. House of Representatives, and unfortunately, this session of Congress is rapidly coming to close. I am writing to urge the House of Representatives to pass this law and send it to the president's desk so we can expedite justice for the American public. More importantly, to expedite justice for victims and the loved ones living with unresolved grief and unanswered questions.