Citing a backlog of 3,800 DNA cases, law enforcement officials call for legislative support
Law enforcement officials from across Minnesota gathered in St. Paul on Tuesday to seek legislative help in clearing up a huge backlog of DNA cases awaiting testing amid rising violent crime.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Ramsey County District Attorney John Choi said the backlog has become “a real problem” in the time it takes to get justice through the criminal justice system. Evidence must be processed within one month. However, a backlog of around 3,800 cases clogged the system and pushed the average evidence processing time to 142 days. Some evidence is not processed for a year.
Without support, officials say the average time to eliminate evidence could climb to 240 days by 2025.
“Why it’s so important here for law enforcement is the investigations. A lot of times we can’t even present the case to our office because we’re still waiting for the lab tests,” Choi said. “We’re going through things in our community that we haven’t been through in a while, and the solution to all of that is really working together.”
Choi’s office paid $110,000 to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for a Ramsey County firearms medical examiner. This scientist has already started working for the bureau, but BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said more should be done to meet the growing need for DNA testing across the state.
A crime boom has contributed to this need. Officials said Tuesday that between 2019 and 2022, Minnesota saw a 30% increase in violent crime and a 109% increase in gun crime. Victims and witnesses cooperate less often with prosecutors. Evans said with more funding, forensic analysis could fill the gaps in unsolved cases.
“As the state’s crime lab, our Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s forensic lab is where most of the evidence for these crimes is tested. Currently, the demand for testing exceeds away the ability of the BCA,” Evans said. “The Governor’s funding proposal will help us get there and get to key evidence faster – bringing justice to victims of crime.”
Governor Tim Walz’s proposal would pay the BCA $6.1 million in the next fiscal year and secure $5.1 million in ongoing funding beginning in fiscal year 2025. This funding could secure equipment and supplies forensics, more than three dozen staff members, and a new BCA facility in southern Minnesota that could process 12,000 pieces of evidence a year.
Evans said the support could reduce the average evidence processing time to one month by 2025.
Backlogs in cases requiring testing have occurred in recent years. The city of Minneapolis has budgeted $200,000 in 2020 to help reduce the backlog of rape kits. Some were decades old.
Clearing the backlog of DNA cases would speed up the time it takes to process other cases, but Roseville Police Chief Erika Scheider said it’s also important to maintaining healthy relationships with the community.
“These delays can frustrate and anger victims of crime. And if they persist, they can erode community confidence in our criminal justice system,” Scheider said. “We need to meet this challenge across the state.”
Walz said he was considering offering to dedicate some of the state’s $17.5 billion surplus to public safety efforts. Walz and the Legislative Assembly are working on a new two-year budget this session, which ends in May.
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