Six Truths About Crime Scene DNA You Won’t see on TV

You’ve got a suspect in custody, run his DNA, found a match in CODIS, and you’re ready to make an arrest for the crime. Now you just need a handsome detective in sunglasses to put the squeeze on the guy.

Yeah. Not so much.

Crime scene investigation, especially where it pertains to DNA, isn’t quite like they say on TV. While DNA can be an invaluable tool in helping to support criminal investigators and confirm (or eliminate) suspects, the truth about what happens in a forensic crime lab doesn’t always make for great television.

If you work in forensics, you’ve likely rolled your eyes along with us at the over-simplification of the tools, processes, and personnel involved in forensic DNA analysis. Share this post with your friends the next time they compare your job with that of a TV CSI, because as we both know, here’s what really goes down:

1. DNA Processing Takes Time

DNA test results in a couple of hours? That only happens on television. A criminal DNA assessment generally requires a minimum of about 60 hours of testing and analysis,according to forensic scientist Heather R. Fisher Sargent, MFS.

This can translate into anywhere from three days to several weeks, depending on the lab’s backlog and available human resources. Given that the average crime lab has more than 150 backlogged DNA requests¹ a typical lab’s goal for DNA processing is more like 30 days.

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