In a well-lit, well-ventilated room on an upper floor of the OSBI Forensic Science Center in Edmond is a set of shelves that houses hundreds of boxes of cards with 125,000 DNA samples, mostly from convicted felons and felony arrestees.
A 2016 state law made Oklahoma one of 31 states allowing DNA to be collected when a person is arrested.
The OSBI wrote and received a grant in 2017 to fund training, testing and equipment, and began processing arrestee DNA samples on Dec. 19, 2018.
“We got our first hit the next day,” said Lesley Perry, supervisor of the OSBI’s CODIS Unit. CODIS is the national DNA database.
“And we didn’t just get one hit, we got four from the first plate of arrestee samples we processed, which was very buoying,” she said.
As of July 1, the OSBI has gotten 67 hits on arrestee samples, including hits to 41 burglaries, six sexual assaults and three homicides.
Most of those hits are from cases that were collected and submitted in Oklahoma County.
“That tells us most of the hits are local, but we have also seen some cross-jurisdictional matches.”
OSBI’s arrestee DNA collection program costs about $312,000 annually, Perry said. The total cost of investigating just one homicide averages $392,000, the bureau reported.
WHO’S DNA IS IT?
Perry said not all DNA evidence from a crime scene can go into the CODIS system.
“Victim and witness profiles are not entered into the database,” she said. “There must be documentation to believe a profile belongs to a ‘putative perpetrator.’”
CODIS — the Combined DNA Index System — houses DNA from crime scenes, relatives of missing persons, unidentified remains, convicted felons, those convicted of specific misdemeanors (ranging from possession of a controlled substance to negligent homicide) and from felony arrestees if the arrest was made on a felony warrant, if a judge finds probable cause or if the arrestee fails to appear at a hearing.
Perry said the Supreme Court has ruled that collecting DNA from arrestees is constitutional.
“(The court) makes the correlation between taking a DNA sample from a prisoner and taking their photograph or their fingerprints,” she said.
Perry said the Supreme Court decision did not call for an expungement policy, which OSBI has.
OSBI will expunge the sample if charges are dismissed or not filed, if the arrestee is found not guilty or if the district attorney declines to file.
“So I feel like we’re ahead of the game.”
RAPID DNA ON HORIZON
Oklahoma’s repository of DNA profiles could greatly increase if the state and local agencies choose to fully implement rapid DNA testing technology.
Rapid DNA testing is an emerging technology that would allow for fully automated DNA processing at the time and place a subject is booked.
“It’s swab in, profile out,” Perry said, and the instrument at the booking station automatically puts the results through CODIS, the national DNA database.
The benefits of rapid DNA testing are its automation and speed — it can be performed by individuals with minimal training and returns results in as little as two hours, she said.
Modified rapid DNA testing — which would take place in a lab under the review and interpretation of trained personnel — is also being developed, Perry said.
Implementation of rapid DNA technology is some time away, as agencies will have to find funding, purchase equipment, and improve infrastructure, she said. The state would also need statutes to govern the practice. An FBI pilot program is underway in five states, with no projected completion date.
Current Oklahoma law restricts rapid DNA searches to an agency’s local database — rapid-tested samples will not be searched outside of the county in which they are collected.
OSBI Director Rick Adams said the OSBI’s Information Services Division is a vital unit that oftentimes does not get highlighted.
“Behind the scenes, they’re the people who are making sure that this photograph or set of fingerprints or DNA sample is matched up to the person who did the crime,” Adams said.