On Thursday Utah Senator Orrin Hatch toured the Utah Crime Lab to advocate for new forensic research tools that quickly process DNA evidence.
Senator Hatch focused specifically on the DNA analysis area. Pilar Shortsleeve is the chief forensic scientist in the crime lab. She says recent funding from the Utah legislature and Department of Public Safety allowed them to purchase new robotic tools to speed up backlogs of DNA evidence from crimes.
"Those robots can handle up to 90 samples at a time. And so the processing of samples becomes very quick," Shortsleeve said.
Shortsleeve says right now it takes about two months to process a DNA sample, from when it arrives to when it’s listed in a report. With their new system they hope to cut that time in half.
In January Senator Hatch introduced legislation called the Rapid DNA Act to allow law enforcement officials to make that process even faster. A new method called rapid DNA analysis could cut processing time down to a matter of hours.
"So we’re really excited about rapid DNA. It is a technology that we’ve been looking forward to," Shortsleeve said.
Hatch’s Rapid DNA Act passed the U.S. Senate but has yet to go through the House. The senator said rapid DNA analysis is an important tool for courts.
"This would exonerate a lot of people who may have been charged improperly and yet we should be able to tell who really needs to be prosecuted," Hatch said.
Forensic Scientist Pilar Shortsleeve says that if Hatch’s Rapid DNA Act passes, law enforcement will have to first develop rules for how the analysis is used and integrated into national crime databases.