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home : most recent : statewide implications June 23, 2018

6/1/2018 12:20:00 PM
New Indiana law on DNA testing is solving previously cold cases
Illustration by Kevin Burkett | Pharos-Tribune
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Illustration by Kevin Burkett | Pharos-Tribune

Kim Dunlap, Pharos-Tribune

When someone burglarized a Cass County business in 2011, the perpetrator left behind several droplets of blood after being cut by a broken window.

Officials with the Cass County Sheriff's Department at the time took swabs of the blood droplets, placed them into evidence and sent them to the Indiana State Police Lab for testing.

But for years the case went cold. Until now. 

It's all thanks in part to a new DNA law that was passed during the 2017 legislative session and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The new law states any person arrested for a felony offense is required to provide a DNA sample as part of normal jail processing procedure.

The DNA is collected through a mouth swab, and that person's sample is then entered into ISP's Combined DNA Index System — or CODIS — for analysis. The database then searches for matches, also known as "hits," that could possibly connect that sample to other crime scenes.

Under the old law, DNA samples were taken only from people actually convicted of felonies. Law enforcement officials say that led to numerous cold or unsolved investigations.

In the first three months of 2018 alone, over 12,000 DNA samples were collected statewide from people convicted of felonies and others arrested for felony charges. CODIS ended up connecting 244 of those DNA samples to ongoing crime investigations. And 72 of those hits came directly from people affected by the new DNA law, an ISP press release stated.

Back in April, CODIS even found a hit that matched DNA found at that Cass County business in 2011, linking it to an individual arrested on unrelated felony charges in a nearby county. Since the court case is pending, officials did not disclose the identity of that individual.

If not for the new DNA law, that investigation might have remained cold, police said.

"It [the new law] helps a lot," CCSD Sgt. Kevin Pruiett said. "Due to the fact that this was a cold case for seven years, and we didn't have a suspect at the time, there's probably no way we would have gotten the person otherwise."

CCSD Maj. Jill Rife said the new law may be one of the most important assets that law enforcement now has when it comes to crime scene investigations.

"It's a sledgehammer," she said. "It just ups our odds of being able to solve these kinds of cases." 

And it's not just helping law enforcement either, Cass County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Lisa Swaim said.

"It can be an extremely important tool for public safety because the law can identify offenders that have evaded law enforcement for past crimes," she said. "It helps us hold them accountable."

The new law can also help those who have been wrongfully accused, Swaim continued.

"This can remove innocent suspects from investigation or conviction," she said. "For prosecutors, that's exactly what you want. You absolutely want as much information as you can get to make sure that you're doing the right thing."

And while it's been in effect on the federal level for years, Swaim said the new DNA law is progressive for the Hoosier state. The new law's also something Swaim said she's excited to watch develop over time.

"I hope that this ends up bringing somebody some justice that they didn't have before," she said. "If you care about doing the right thing, then this is the best possible thing that could have happened for us. With the new ability for DNA evidence like this, it really is a game changer."

2018 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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