U.S. National DNA Database System

The U.S. national DNA database system is an important criminal justice element for American law enforcement agencies. It allows law enforcement around the country to compare forensic DNA evidence.

 Crime laboratory results for arrestees can be matched against a central repository of DNA information. With a simple swab, officers can better determine the identity of a suspect based on biological crime scene evidence. DNA typing is especially helpful when suspects cross state lines.

Convicted offenders aren't the only subjects of DNA testing. The forensic laboratory DNA analysis database originally tracked only sex offenders, but it has expanded to include all people convicted of qualifying offenses under federal law. Some states and the federal government now go further. They have begun collecting DNA samples from people who have been arrested for a crime but have not yet been convicted. These samples are used for investigative leads that might match with offender DNA.

Suspects in criminal investigations and detained immigrants may also be subject to DNA data collection. When authorities in the criminal justice system are solving crimes, they might have suspects. Even innocent persons reasonably subjected to DNA testing are fair game. They may be charged with misdemeanors for refusing to cooperate. This is especially true if a law enforcement officer has probable cause or a court order to investigate a crime.

The following is an overview of the U.S. national DNA database system, including its beginnings and how it's used by law enforcement.

The U.S. National DNA Database System: Origins and Basics

This program began as a pilot project of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The DNA Identification Act of 1994 funded federal DNA laboratories. It authorized the FBI to begin compiling genetic information into a central database. The Justice for All Act of 2004 expanded the number of crimes that qualified for inclusion in the database. It required public forensic science labs to receive accreditation. This would be needed before the national database would accept their DNA profiles.

The national DNA database has many components. At its core is a database of DNA information and a set of software and communications tools. These tools are used for comparing data collected from different sources. The database is known as the National DNA Index System (NDIS). The system for analyzing and communicating data is called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

How the DNA Database Is Administered and Used

The FBI administers both the NDIS and CODIS, but the DNA information contained in the national database comes from both the federal government and the states. The national DNA database system has three basic levels:

  • Local governments collect DNA information in their own databases. A local government can submit approved DNA profiles to their state's own DNA database.
  • Each state collects the approved profiles from its local jurisdictions. It also compiles profiles that the state creates itself within the state DNA database. Every state has a set of rules that govern what profiles can go into the state database.
  • Each state submits the DNA profiles that meet the requirements for inclusion in NDIS.

U.S. National DNA Database: Issues and Concerns

Some people have challenged the various state and federal DNA records collection laws. They have raised issue on the grounds that the collection of DNA samples is unconstitutional. They argue that it is an illegal search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. For the most part, courts have upheld the laws and allowed the collection to continue.

While DNA technology has largely advanced legal casework, the system isn't perfect. Crime labs can be overwhelmed with large backlogs. Quality control and chain of custody can also be problematic. Maintaining quality assurance of DNA records is challenging and expensive.

Still, proponents argue that the use of biological samples has helped put many convicted felons behind bars. Offender samples have helped get justice for victims. That includes sexual assault survivors and relatives of missing persons.

DNA technology remains controversial in other contexts. Issues still remain, especially for laws that allow for the collection of DNA from those arrested but not yet convicted. Civil rights advocates have raised concerns. They have observed that an individual's DNA profile could remain in the national database. It can stay in government databanks even after an acquittal or expungement. Some civil rights advocates have also protested discriminatory DNA genome retention policies.

Need Help With DNA Evidence? Contact an Experienced Lawyer Today

The U.S. National DNA Database System uses DNA collected from criminal subjects. It operates throughout the country to store, track, and locate criminals. It works by matching DNA samples from subjects to data stored in its database. Under most state laws, criminal subjects can be DNA swabbed for charges as low as loitering. If your DNA has been linked to a violent crime, you need legal representation. Make sure you have a criminal defense attorney on your side to protect your interests.

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