DNA testing backlog hurts due process

Like most state-run DNA testing centers, Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension faces a chronic backlog of cases. Although the tests themselves only take between eight hours and two weeks to conduct, the wait for results can extend up to six months. The backlog will inevitably increase in November and December after the criminal apprehension bureau moves into a new facility in St. Paul. Extended backlogs in DNA testing centers put the right to due process in jeopardy and might place disproportionate stress on victims.

In 2002, the criminal apprehension bureau processed 1,592 criminal DNA tests. The bureau provides all state government agencies with free testing and, therefore, is their preferred provider. However, as a result of long wait times, investigators sometimes opt to send evidence to private labs at an additional cost to the agency. In many cases, neither the defendant nor the accuser has the means or the social power to send evidence to a private lab. When backlogs occur, accused assailants often wait in jail.

It is widely held that sexual assault cases take up at least 70 percent of the work done in DNA testing centers such as the criminal apprehension bureau. With new technology, sexual assault victims can use biological evidence to track down the identity of their assailant. Because of the sensitive nature of these crimes and the crucial role DNA testing plays in sexual assault cases, the state and federal government should provide more resources to decrease delays.

The criminal apprehension bureau is a part of the Department of Public Safety, which took a $7.6 million budget cut in February. The director of the criminal apprehension bureau’s forensic science laboratory, Frank Dolejsi, said the “full impact of the budget cuts has not come yet.” He said in coming months, as the backlog increases, the bureau might not be able to supplement regular lab hours with overtime, which has been cut. The criminal apprehension bureau has not publicly addressed these concerns and, to be fully accountable, should release a detailed plan to the public ensuring appropriate measures to minimize backlog.