Cold cases heat up with new forensic DNA methods

Sequencing technologies are deriving information from challenging samples, and database tools are ensuring that the information yields meaningful results

By Catherine Shaffer | September 1, 2020

The following is an excerpt from the article: 

Software and database management are also important areas of innovation in forensic DNA analysis. Sexual assault cases require a high standard for data management and record keeping.

The status and location of a rape kit after the initial exam, however, is not always available to survivors. Some jurisdictions have lost, misplaced, or failed to process rape kits, leading to major scandals. In one high-profile example, 11,000 untested rape kits were found in an abandoned evidence warehouse in Wayne County, MI, in 2009.

Traditionally, the only way rape survivors can get information about the status of their evidence in the system is directly from the detective on their case. Because of this lack of transparency, background of institutional neglect, and the potential to feel “lost in the system,” lawmakers are giving survivors more access to information about their rape kits.

Tim Stacy, a sales director for STACS DNA, says there’s no reason survivors shouldn’t be able to keep tabs on their kits. “We’re tracking packages with Amazon and FedEx,” he points out. “Why not apply that to sexual assault kits?”

Stacy is slated to give an update on STACS DNA’s tracking system at Bode’s 19th Annual Forensic DNA Conference, which is scheduled to be held virtually on October 26 and 27. Survivors can access STACS DNA’s Track-Kit system with a password and track the kit as it moves through the system. The information available varies between states that have implemented the system. Michigan is currently the only state that will post results through Track-Kit. Other states will just show whether the case is completed.

A lot of survivors talk about losing their power,” observes Stacy. “What we’re simply doing is giving them some control back.”

Having a tracking system is also an important prerequisite if there are going to be requirements for how quickly a kit will be analyzed. Stacy says that because states implement a tracking system in response to legislation, STACS DNA’s solutions are custom tailored for each state. Rollout generally starts with one city’s law enforcement agencies and hospitals, then expands outward to the rest of the state, but it is always focused on the survivor’s need for updates and privacy. Stacy concludes, “I’ve talked with a number of survivors to get a sense of what they struggle with. For a lot of people, it’s just a software program. For us, it’s a lot more than that.”

Read the full article