In an announcement on Tuesday, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the completion of one phase of his office’s “lawfully owed DNA project,” an effort to collect DNA samples from registered sex offenders from whom a required DNA sample had never been collected.
The successful completion of the project has resulted in 372 DNA samples being added to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national DNA database.
According to Ferguson, eight of those samples have matched DNA evidence already in CODIS. Of those eight matches, three are for unsolved sex offenses in Washington state, two are for individuals who are already convicted of, or are confirmed suspects for, sex crimes and three are matches for out of state offenses for which relevant law enforcement agencies have been notified.
The next phase of the project is focused on collecting legally required DNA samples from those who are not sex offenders who have committed violent crimes. Ferguson’s office is working with local law enforcement agencies to collect the required samples.
“Out of respect for survivors and their experience, this work must be done. … This project is bringing justice to survivors of assault, rape and other violent crimes. The more cold cases that are solved, the safer our communities will be,” Ferguson said in the statement.
According to the statement, individuals are required to submit DNA when “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.”
Ferguson’s office had identified 635 registered sex offenders who were required to provide a DNA sample but had not done so. Of those, 257 were unable to provide a sample for reasons including death or deportation. Law enforcement agencies have been unable to reach six remaining offenders. Of those six offenders, one resides in Clark County, three in Snohomish County and two in Columbia County.
The lawfully owed DNA project was launched in October 2019 in partnership with the federal Department of Justice and local law enforcement agencies as part of Ferguson’s effort to clear Washington’s backlog of sexual assault kits. According to the statement, “Collected samples are entered into CODIS, where they can be used to help identify the perpetrators of unsolved rapes, murders and other crimes.”
“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,” the statement said. “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 serial rapists, 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 whom were wrongfully convicted.”