DNA Laws Database Topic Summaries
NCSL has partnered with the National Institute of Justice to develop a DNA Laws Database. On this page you will find a general overview of each of the six DNA topics --- The Establishment of DNA Databases; Requirements for Accreditation; Oversight and Reporting on Forensic Practices; DNA Requirements for Convicted Offenders; DNA Requirements for Certain Arrestees; Post-Conviction DNA Testing and Federal Opportunities: The Justice for All Act. These summaries provide insight to the issues you will encounter within each topic.
In the box to the right are links to each of the summaries as well as links to the 50-state tables that analyze the various DNA statutes and state regulations. These tables show how each state chooses to regulate their DNA laws.
The NCSL DNA Laws Database is a resource for legislators, staff and others who are interested in laws related to DNA. To search the DNA Laws Database, use the link to the right.
The Establishment of DNA Databases
DNA analysis is a powerful crime-fighting tool for prosecuting criminals and exonerating the innocent. Each state has established a central repository to store and compare DNA profiles to make the best use of this tool. Profiles loaded into these databanks are searchable through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) laboratory's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
The CODIS computer software allows forensic laboratories at the national, state and local levels to compare DNA samples and use the database in accordance with state and local laws. CODIS is split into three tiers – LDIS (Local DNA Index System), SDIS (State DNA Index System) and NDIS (National DNA Index System). To participate in NDIS and make their profiles nationally searchable, states must take and analyze samples in accordance with the FBI's Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories. Each state has a laboratory that participates in NDIS.
The administration of DNA databanks are handled differently from state to state. Regulations for their operation are found in statute and administrative code, and they are overseen by various state departments, which may include the state police (Maryland, Massachusetts), the state Bureau of Investigation (North Carolina, Oklahoma) and the Department of Health (Rhode Island).
Requirements for Accreditation
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, recommends that all crime laboratories be accredited to provide an important safeguard for the quality of forensic services. When a lab achieves accreditation, it certifies that its practices are reviewed by top professionals in the forensic science community. This does not mean that accredited labs are always error free or use best practices on every case. It does mean that labs are held accountable for the quality of their operations and that mechanisms are in place to quickly identify and correct. Through accreditation programs, proficiency testing, professional certification requirements and ethics codes can be instilled in crime laboratories.
Accrediting organizations can be arms of the state or private organizations. New York and Texas have state-level accrediting bodies, but accreditation requirements for most other states are handled by private organizations such as the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB) and Forensic Quality Services International (FQS-I). To ensure consistency between programs, accreditation regulations are guided by International Standardization Organization/ International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC) 17025:2005; International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Guide 19:2002; and the National Quality Assurance Standards for DNA Testing.
Only a few states currently require forensic laboratories to be accredited. Even in states that require accreditation, statutes often allow smaller forensic units operating in police departments (e.g.: mostly latent print units) and other areas outside laboratories to operate without accreditation. The NAS report recommends that these units also become accredited and that future state statutes that require accreditation also include smaller units.
Oversight and Reporting on Forensic Practices
To improve their state's forensic services, some legislatures have authorized standing boards or investigative committees to issue reports and make recommendations for improvements. This section is a collection of these groups and their reporting requirements. Some states, such as Missouri and New York, have commissions with general agendas to oversee the states' crime laboratories, while others, such as Arizona and Texas, have task forces with pointed agendas that may include studying the handling of cold case files and the backlog of unidentified human remains.
DNA Requirements for Convicted Offenders
Every state in the nation collects DNA samples from those who are convicted of certain crimes for use in state and/or federal databanks. As of August 2010, 49 states collect DNA samples from all felony convicts. Idaho is the exception. Each year, some states expand their convicted offender databases to include more classifications of convicted criminals. California is the most expansive state; it collects DNA samples from all felony and misdemeanor convictions.
DNA Requirements for Certain Arrestees
A growing number of states are collecting DNA samples from those arrested for certain offenses. These statutes differ from those in the "DNA Requirements for Convicted Offenders" section because arrestees who have not been found guilty of any crime are submitting DNA samples. As of August 2010, 24 states have passed laws authorizing collection of DNA from arrestees; North Carolina, Ohio and Utah authorized it this year.
In some states, arrestee statutes have raised Fourth Amendment rights and privacy issues. To address these concerns, Maryland, Minnesota and Tennessee have added judicial hearings to determine whether there was probable cause for the arrest. If probable cause exists, then the sample can be loaded into a DNA database. Another concern with arrestee statutes is the process for expungement (removing and destroying the sample) once charges have been dropped or the arrestee has been found innocent. Alabama, Arizona and Arkansas require the arrestee to file a petition with the appropriate agency to get the sample expunged, while South Carolina, Vermont and Texas automatically expunge the sample.
Post-Conviction DNA Testing
As of August 2010, 48 states have enacted post-conviction DNA testing statutes; Massachusetts and Oklahoma are the exceptions. These laws provide post-conviction DNA testing procedures to inmates who believe they have been wrongfully convicted. State standards differ for what classifications of convicted people can apply for analysis. Alabama and Kentucky, for example, allow only those convicted of capital crimes to apply for testing, while in Hawaii and Idaho, anyone convicted of a crime can apply. Standards also vary for application content and approval criteria. In Oregon and Pennsylvania, the application must display "a prima facie showing of actual innocence," while Nevada and New Hampshire require a "reasonable probability" that the testing will show innocence.
Along with procedures for post-conviction DNA testing, these laws include or are partnered with provisions for preserving biological evidence. Laws that allow post-conviction testing are meaningless if the relevant evidence has been lost, improperly stored or loses its chain of custody. The evidence often is stored for the length of incarceration or a set number of years. Preservation laws and post-conviction testing are excellent tools to correct unfortunate injustices.
Federal Opportunities: The Justice for All Act
This section discusses the federal funding opportunities available to state and local laboratories under "The Justice for All Act"(H.R. 5107, Public Law 108-405). The act contains four major sections related to crime victims and the criminal justice process. Some purposes of the act are to protect crime victims' rights, eliminate the substantial backlog of DNA samples collected from crime scenes and convicted offenders, and improve and expand the DNA testing capacity of federal, state and local crime laboratories.'
- The Debbie Smith Act of 2004 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 14136(a) through (d))
- The purpose of the Debbie Smith Act is to increase the capacity of laboratories owned by states and units of local government to carry out DNA analyses of samples from crime scenes, rape kits, other samples from sexual assault evidence, and samples taken in cases without an identified suspect so that the samples are analyzed in a timely manner.
- For each of fiscal years 2009 through 2014, $151 million appropriated to the attorney general for grants under subsection (a). (Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008, (2008 Amendments. Pub. L. 110-360))
- The DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2004 (42 U.S.C. 14136(e))
- The attorney general shall make grants to eligible entities to provide training, technical assistance, education, equipment and information relating to the identification, collection, preservation, analysis, and use of DNA samples and DNA evidence by medical and other personnel, including doctors, medical examiners, coroners, nurses, victim service providers, and other professionals involved in treating victims of sexual assault and sexual assault examination programs, including SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner) and SART (Sexual Assault Response Team).
- To carry out this section, $30 million is appropriated for each of fiscal years 2009 through 2014 to carry out this section.
- The Innocence Protection Act of 2004
- Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program (42 U.S.C. 14136(e))
- The Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program awards grants to states so they are better prepared for the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. To carry out this section, $5 million is appropriated for each of fiscal years 2005 through 2009.
- Proposed legislation (2009 CONG US HR 2157) would extend the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program through 2014.
- The Scott Campbell, Stephanie Roper, Wendy Preston, Louarna Gillis, and Nila Lynn Crime Victims' Rights Act; (18 U.S.C.A. §3771, 42 U.S.C.A. §10603d through e).
- Goal: The purpose of this grant is to enhance crime victims rights, including: (1) The right to be reasonably protected from the accused. (2) The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding or any parole proceeding involving the crime, or of any release or escape of the accused. (3) The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding. (4) The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding. (5) The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case. (6) The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law. (7) The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay. (8) The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
- The director can make grants as provided in section 10603(c)(1)(A) of this title to state, tribal, and local prosecutors' offices; law enforcement agencies; courts, jails and correctional institutions; and qualified public or private entities to develop and implement state-of-the-art systems for notifying victims of crime of important dates and developments relating to the criminal proceedings at issue in a timely and efficient manner, provided that the jurisdiction has laws substantially equivalent to the provisions of chapter 237 of Title 18. (42 U.S.C.A. §10603e)
- The director can make grants as provided in section 10603(c)(1)(A) of this title to state, tribal and local prosecutors' offices; law enforcement agencies; courts, jails and correctional institutions; and qualified public and private entities, to develop, establish and maintain programs for enforcement of crime victims' rights as provided in law. (42 U.S.C.A. §10603d)
Web Links to National Institute of Justice Grant Information:
Richard Williams, (303) 364-7700 ext. 1407 or firstname.lastname@example.org