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DNA analysis now helps solve lesser crimes, too

January 6, 2014 | Virginia News

By Scott Daugherty, The Virginian-Pilot

CHESAPEAKE – DNA. For more than two decades, it's helped police solve heinous murders and catch serial rapists.

Specially trained forensic scientists routinely examine evidence, recover biological samples and conduct tests to develop a bad guy's DNA profile - the telltale genetic information contained in our cells. The evidence has become a mainstay of Virginia courtrooms, not to mention TV cop shows.

And in recent years, the science has become so commonplace it's even started popping up in misdemeanor cases. Police and prosecutors hope DNA will bolster their efforts in an unusual drunken driving case pending in General District Court.

"Twenty years ago, DNA was reserved for homicides and maybe some sexual assaults," said Brad Jenkins, biology program manager for the state's Department of Forensic Science. "But not anymore."

Police investigating a felony may submit biological evidence to one of the state's four labs for DNA testing, Jenkins said. His staff members routinely help detectives investigate robberies, assaults and burglaries.

And, when possible, the lab also will screen evidence from a misdemeanor.

"We don't do a lot of misdemeanors, but it does happen on occasion," Jenkins said, explaining that such reviews typically happen only after a member of his staff discusses the case with a prosecutor.

Budget constraints prevent the labs from helping with all misdemeanor investigations. ...

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