Sep 19, 2022 - News

Republicans, Democrats want faster DNA testing

Illustration of the Tennessee State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

While political leaders are still bitterly debating the best way to respond to high-profile violence in Memphis, Republicans and Democrats both support more funding for faster DNA testing.

Why it matters: Lawmakers say chipping away at long testing lags for rape kits and other DNA evidence could help law enforcement identify and apprehend potentially dangerous suspects more quickly.

Driving the news: Investigators say there is DNA evidence connecting the man charged with kidnapping and killing Eliza Fletcher to a September 2021 sexual assault.

  • But a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation lab only tested the evidence in June and did not receive the results until August, just before the kidnapping, per The Tennessean.

Zoom out: The Tennessean reports TBI crime labs take more than 34 weeks on average to test sexual assault evidence.

Flashback: Last year, the TBI asked for funding to hire 40 new forensic scientists and 10 administrative positions in forensics. The 2022-23 budget funded half of those positions.

What they're saying: House Democratic caucus chair Vincent Dixie said Friday that funding quicker testing turnarounds was a critical part of crime prevention.

  • "There are people out of jail that should be in jail," Dixie added. "Justice is not being served right now."
  • Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton called extensive turnarounds "atrocious," and said he would support more TBI funding, per Tennessee Lookout. Sexton said in a statement that a committee formed this month to review the criminal justice system would be empowered to look into testing times.
  • U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty last week announced a push for federal funding to address and process a national backlog of rape kits.

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