At crime labs across the nation, soaring demand for DNA analysis and a dearth of trained scientists have led to increasingly unmanageable backlogs, the Washington Post reports. Large numbers of cases have been delayed and, in rare instances, suspects accused of violent crimes have been released without trial. In one recent case in Prince George’s County, Md., adjoining Washington, D.C., a man was jailed for six months on charges of assaulting a child before long-delayed DNA results helped prove his innocence. About a quarter of the samples submitted last year were never tested.
The problem stems in part from a public fascination with DNA profiling, which revolutionized crime fighting when it was introduced two decades ago. As the demand for DNA evidence increases, fueled by juror expectations formed by such television shows as “CSI,” government labs have been forced to outsource work to private labs. Flush with business, the private facilities also lure scientists away from the public labs, reducing their ability to handle the growing backlogs. “It’s a universal problem. The issue is that this is a business where the demand is totally out of our control, yet we don’t have the ability to keep up,” said Bill Marbaker, president of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, a national nonprofit organization. About 2.7 million cases poured into the country’s more than 350 publicly funded crime labs in 2002, the latest year for which national data are available.