Investigative Outcomes of CODIS Matches in Previously Untested Sexual Assault Kits

Date01 October 2021
Published date01 October 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(8) 841 –864
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403421990723
Investigative Outcomes of
CODIS Matches in Previously
Untested Sexual Assault Kits
Robert C. Davis1, Alicia Jurek2,
William Wells3, and Joshua Shadwick4
A 2011 Texas statute required that police agencies submit to the state all unanalyzed
sexual assault kits between 1996 and 2011. Cases where a match was made with DNA
from an individual or case were returned to local agencies for additional investigation.
This article examines outcomes of these cases. Consistent with other studies, we
found that the ratio of arrests to all kits submitted was below 1%, and the ratio of
arrests to Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) hits was 5.5%. A cost analysis
concluded that the cost per court filing was US$132,000. We argue that the small
number of arrests was partially due to the age of the cases, based on 8- to 23-year-
old crime reports. We further contend that the program could have produced better
results if the state had provided funding more quickly for testing and investigations.
policy implications, violence against women, sexual assault
In the early 2000s, The United States Department of Justice began providing funding
to assess the number of criminal cases with unsubmitted forensic evidence in U.S.
police departments. The investigators found that “[t]he backlog of unsolved rapes and
homicides in the U.S. is massive,” (Lovrich et al., 2004, p. 2) with approximately
48,000 homicides and 155,000 rapes with DNA evidence sitting unsubmitted (Pratt
1National Police Foundation, Arlington, VA, USA
2Independent researcher, San Diego, CA
3Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA
4SE Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, MO
Corresponding Author:
Robert C. Davis, National Police Foundation, 2550 S Clark St, Arlington, VA 22202, USA.
990723CJPXXX10.1177/0887403421990723Criminal Justice Policy ReviewDavis et al.
842 Criminal Justice Policy Review 32(8)
et al., 2006). Since that time, national funds have been earmarked to assist with the
testing of previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits (SAKs), and state and local laws
have been enacted to clear the backlogs and ensure universal testing of these kits.
A number of factors have contributed to low submission rates of SAKs, as research
has found that some police investigators perceive no benefit to submitting some SAKs
for DNA analysis. These include cases in which the police believed the victim was an
unreliable or uncooperative witness, could not be located, the suspect claimed the
sexual contact was consensual, or the suspect had already taken a plea agreement
(Campbell & Fehler-Cabral, 2018; Campbell, Fehler-Cabral, et al., 2015; Campbell,
Shaw, & Fehler-Cabral, 2015). In addition to prosecutorial challenges, a lack of
resources (e.g., money, staff) has also been cited as a reason for not testing all SAKs
(e.g., Campbell & Fehler-Cabral, 2018; Lovrich et al., 2004; Strom & Hickman, 2010).
In response to the lack of universal testing of SAKs, stakeholders argue that pre-
viously unsubmitted SAKs may still hold evidentiary value. More specifically, if
now tested, they may lead to the arrest and prosecution of offenders, and especially
those offenders who have committed multiple crimes (Lovell et al., 2020). Comparing
samples from these unsubmitted kits to samples in state and federal DNA databases
would expose such offenders who would otherwise have remained hidden. Testing
and upload of forensic evidence to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a
computer system that links DNA databases containing offender profiles across the
nation (United States Department of Justice, 2002), was expected to assist in the
identification of serial sexual offenders, bring previously unidentified offenders to
justice, and exonerate innocent suspects (Campbell, Feeney, et al., 2017; Lovell,
Yang, & Klingenstein, 2018).
Recent research has begun to examine the benefits as well as the costs of submitting
previously unsubmitted SAKs for DNA analysis. This line of empirical inquiry has
primarily focused on the impact these unsubmitted SAKs have had on criminal justice
outcomes within a singular, metropolitan area (Campbell, Shaw, et al., 2015; Lovell,
Luminais, et al., 2018; Wells et al., 2016). To our knowledge, no research to date has
examined the impact a statewide, universal testing mandate has had concurrently
across multiple metropolitan areas. As a result, the present study capitalizes on a 2011
Texas law that, for the first time, required universal submission of SAKs to accredited
crime labs, as well as identification and DNA analysis of previously unsubmitted kits
in the possession of local law enforcement agencies. Because the statute affected the
entire state, the numbers of unsubmitted SAKs identified was large (more than 18,000),
offering an unusual opportunity to examine the benefits and costs of DNA analysis of
previously unsubmitted SAKs in a large sample of cases.
Review of the Relevant Literature
Estimates have placed the number of unsubmitted SAKs to be more than 200,000
(Campbell, Feeney, et al., 2017; Lovrich et al., 2004; Strom & Hickman, 2010). In
2015, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) launched the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative
(SAKI) to provide financial assistance and technical support to jurisdictions address-
ing the problem of unsubmitted SAKs (BJA, n.d.). Overall, the SAKI (2019) assisted

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT