Untested Evidence in Law Enforcement Custody

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Overview of the Issue

At the request of a law enforcement investigating officer or a prosecutor, evidence from a crime may be sent to a crime lab for testing. Some reasons evidence may not be submitted to a lab for analysis include:

  • Subsequent police investigation may show that testing the evidence would not be probative.
  • Charges against the alleged perpetrator may be dropped.
  • The suspect may plead guilty.

In such cases, forensic evidence generally remains stored in the police property room. There also may be reasons why evidence that should be sent to the crime laboratory for analysis is not sent. In recent years, NIJ has funded a number of research projects to help inform this issue.

How Much Untested Evidence Is in Law Enforcement Custody?

In 2009, NIJ published the results of a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 state and local law enforcement departments regarding forensic evidence that had not been sent to the lab. The findings revealed that forensic evidence — including DNA, fingerprints, firearms and tool marks — was not submitted to a crime lab in 14 percent of unsolved homicides, 18 percent of unsolved sexual assaults and 23 percent of unsolved property crimes during 2002-2007.

What Do We Know About Untested Sexual Assault Kits in Law Enforcement Custody?

In 2010, NIJ — in partnership with the Office on Violence Against Women — brought together sexual assault nurse examiners, crime laboratory directors, cold case detectives, prosecutors and victim advocates from around the country to discuss the challenges surrounding untested sexual assault kits. In 2011, NIJ launched an action research project in Detroit and Houston to study the issue.

Date Modified: June 18, 2012