AG’s Office is working with law enforcement to collect the remaining samples in this second phase of its DNA project
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced June 16, 2022 that his lawfully owed DNA project identified 387 sex, kidnapping and homicide offenders still living in Washington who illegally failed to provide DNA samples after their criminal conviction.
Of these 387 individuals, the Attorney General’s Office already collected 102 new DNA profiles, including: 5 new DNA profiles from individuals convicted of homicide; 10 new DNA profiles from individuals convicted of kidnapping; and 88 new DNA profiles from convicted sex offenders.
(The previous phase of this project collected DNA profiles from registered sex offenders. This phase focused on sex offenders who are not required to register.)
All 102 new profiles were added to CODIS, the national DNA database.
This is the second phase of Ferguson’s lawfully owed DNA project. In May, Ferguson announced that his office completed the collection of lawfully owed DNA from currently registered sex offenders across the state, resulting in 372 new profiles in CODIS.
The Attorney General’s Office estimates that thousands of convicted violent offenders in Washington needed to submit a DNA sample as a condition of their sentence but failed to provide one. Ferguson’s office is committed to working with law enforcement to collect all of them, if feasible.
“DNA helps solve cold cases and can exonerate individuals wrongfully convicted,” Ferguson said. “Out of respect to victims and survivors of crimes, and for the rule of law, this work must be done.”
Lawfully owed DNA is defined as a DNA sample from a qualifying criminal offender who should have their sample in CODIS, but from whom a sample has never been collected or submitted to a lab for testing. Washington law requires all offenders convicted of a felony, certain gross misdemeanors and all currently registered sex and kidnapping offenders to provide a DNA sample. Some fail to comply with this part of their sentence. The Attorney General’s lawfully owed DNA project aims to identify and collect these legally required samples. Ferguson’s office is working with local law enforcement around the state to collect DNA samples from offenders who still owe samples.
Locating offenders who still owe DNA
The Attorney General’s Office located offenders who still owe DNA using a multi-step investigative process. There is no centralized database for locating these offenders.
First, Attorney General’s Office Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) investigators analyzed data on offenders who still owe DNA, provided by the Washington State Department of Corrections and Washington State Patrol. Working with State Patrol, AGO investigators confirmed which of these offenders already have a DNA profile entered into CODIS. Investigators also analyzed offenders’ conviction history to confirm that the offenders owe DNA.
Then, investigators used numerous databases to confirm that the offender is still located in the state and still able to provide a sample — and to find the last known contact information for the remaining offenders.
Investigators then sent letters to offenders asking them to report to their local law enforcement to provide a sample. Attorney General’s Office staff will conduct additional direct outreach to individuals who do not respond to the letter, as well as working with local law enforcement to contact those individuals.
Refusing a legal request to provide a DNA sample is a violation of state law.
Background on the project
Ferguson launched the lawfully owed DNA project in October 2019. The project is a partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and local law enforcement aimed at identifying and collecting court-ordered DNA samples. Collected samples are entered into CODIS, where they can be used to help identify the perpetrators of unsolved rapes, murders and other crimes.
Every state requires that individuals convicted of certain crimes, including violent crimes and sex offenses, among others, must have a DNA sample taken to be submitted to CODIS. Courts order individuals to submit their DNA as a condition of their sentence. Jails, correctional facilities and local law enforcement are responsible for collecting the samples and submitting them to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab. The Crime Lab enters the DNA profiles into CODIS.
There is currently no statewide, uniform process for collecting DNA samples from offenders. Currently, the practices for collecting court-ordered DNA samples vary between counties, and can result in samples not being collected. The Attorney General’s Office Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Advisory Group first recommended in 2019, and again in 2021, that local jurisdictions establish consistent protocols to help ensure court-ordered DNA is collected.
Investigators and prosecutors rely on samples in CODIS to help solve cases and bring justice to victims. When DNA is collected at a crime scene, it is tested by the crime lab and checked against the CODIS database. Sometimes the DNA profile that was collected as evidence matches a profile in the CODIS database, which is called a “hit.”
These new “hits” can help identify repeat offenders, link cases across the country, shed new light on cold cases and provide answers to crime victims and their families. DNA evidence can also exonerate individuals who were wrongfully convicted.
The lawfully owed DNA project is part of Ferguson’s initiative to help the state clear its backlog of sexual assault kits and bring justice to survivors. More information about this initiative is available on the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative website.