Oregon is ahead of Washington when it comes to using DNA evidence to prosecute non-violent crimes. While burglary and theft are relatively common crimes, the expense of collecting DNA evidence has made it difficult for some police departments in Washington to use DNA evidence for lower-priority offenses. Non-violent crimes make up about 80 percent of all reported crimes in the state.
Oregon has been leading the Northwest in this area. In 2013, forensic scientists in Oregon had over 5,000 “hits” on samples that led to a suspect in a non-violent crime. In such cases, the evidence is often collected through unlikely sources, such as leftover food and beverage containers. One suspect in Portland, for example, pled guilty to burglary after police collected his DNA from an orange juice container he sipped from and then left in the sink after he burgled a home.
About 50 percent of DNA tests run on non-violent crime scenes have a match in Oregon’s database. DNA evidence is very accurate, with the chance of error on a properly collected sample about one in a billion.
Currently, Washington mainly collects DNA evidence for assault, rape and murder. State officials have cited a lack of funding and resources as reasons why DNA evidence is not generally collected for non-violent crimes.
Gary Shutler, who runs DNA testing for Washington’s five crime labs, including the Vancouver, Washington crime lab, told KOIN 6 News that about 20 percent of all DNA testing occurs for non-violent offenses. According to Shutler, police use DNA testing according to a list of priority offenses. Crimes with suspects considered to be an imminent threat to the community are given first priority, followed by those with upcoming trials, people accused of violent crimes, and lastly non-violent crimes.
While non-violent crimes are not routinely tested for DNA, it does reduce the cost and backlog of DNA testing in the state. In Washington, crime labs can process and “hit” on a DNA match within a little over two months, whereas in Oregon DNA tests take nearly twice as long.
A Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
While DNA evidence is accurate, that is not to say there isn’t potential for error. If police improperly collect the DNA sample, for example, the results of the DNA test may be inadmissible in court. In addition, while police in Washington are using increasingly sophisticated technology in their pursuit of leads, traditional methods are still in use and can lead to criminal charges. Traditional evidence such as eyewitness accounts also requires a strenuous defense in court to avoid a guilty verdict.
People in Washington or Oregon charged with criminal activity should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss their legal options and rights.