Forensic Biology/DNA

For more information about the Forensic Biology Program of the
Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences

Please contact:


Angelo Della Manna, MSFS, D-ABC
Assistant Director
Chief of Forensic Biology & DNA

a.dellamanna@adfs.alabama.gov

The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (ADFS) is a well established, statewide forensic science laboratory system with a long and reputable history of over 75 years of service to the citizens of the State of Alabama. ADFS is the second oldest crime laboratory system within the United States and is the only forensic science system present within the State of Alabama. Forensic Scientists within the Forensic Biology Section are charged with the responsibility of analyzing biological evidence recovered by all 452 local and state law enforcement agencies statewide. The scientific analysis of DNA cases is carried out in four (4) regional casework DNA Laboratories, situated across the State. Each regional laboratory serves a large segment of the geographic and population centers present within Alabama, and are located in Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile. ADFS also maintains the State’s DNA Databank Laboratory in Birmingham which is responsible for the collection, storage, and analysis of biological samples recovered from individuals arrested and/or convicted of all felonies and certain misdemeanors, as specified in Code of Alabama 1975 § 36-18-20 and 1975 § 15-5-20 et seq.

Alabama’s authority to collect a DNA sample will expand on SEPTEMBER 30, 2010 as the DNA Database law becomes enacted. This expansion of the current statute authorizes the collection of a DNA sample from individuals arrested for ANY felony offense, or from specified misdemeanors.

Since ADFS is the only agency tasked with the responsibility of analyzing DNA evidence in criminal cases statewide, ADFS remains an essential and integral component of the judicial process within the State of Alabama.

Biological analyses typically involve the analysis and subsequent DNA testing upon evidentiary materials arising from, but not limited to - sexual assault, homicide, burglary and other crimes yielding biological evidence.

FORENSIC BIOLOGY CASEWORK –

The analysis of evidentiary materials proceeds along a continuum which begins with probative and relevant ‘general’ questions which dictate which analyses should be performed, and based on those results, proceeds to very specific questions and test results obtained through state of the art DNA testing. For example, some stains are readily visible to the analyst using ambient or daylight lighting, while others are discovered only with the forensic use of specialized alternate light sources which expand the field of view for the scientist from the visible spectrum to identify additional biological stains which fluoresce under specific wavelengths.

Prior to 2002, the ADFS DNA laboratories were suffering from a tremendous backlog of cases, in excess of 2,000 statewide. The inability of the agency to provide timely DNA results for the backlogged cases had a deleterious effect on Alabama’s criminal justice system. Absent the DNA results, oftentimes cases could not be properly investigated and/or subsequently adjudicated in a timely manner. The statewide backlog of cases with no identified suspect was substantial, was steadily increasing, and was delaying the timely identification of the perpetrators of these crimes through a search of CODIS databases, thereby causing undue hardship on the crime victims.

Rapes, sexual assaults, and simple assaults alone had contributed over 4,500 cases to Alabama’s system over the previous 4 years.

During this time frame, the four main population centers in Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile experienced an increase of 4.9% in the commission of forcible rapes. Rapes in Alabama occur at the rate of 3.7/day and 57.6/100,000 female individuals.

The Forensic Biology section of ADFS recognized the importance of the aforementioned trends and statistics and starting in 2002, began an aggressive effort to secure Federal grant funding aimed at utilizing state of the art DNA technology to build laboratory infrastructure, enhance capacity and attack the backlog of cases awaiting DNA analyses. ADFS simultaneously made it a priority to address No Suspect cases, and continues to make a concerted effort to go back and examine 'cold cases' many of which occurred decades ago, and were perpetrated prior to the advent of DNA testing.

Through the early Federal Grant efforts of ADFS, the State utilized Federal funding to substantially decrease the statewide No Suspect Casework backlog while simultaneously increasing the laboratory capacity and efficiency in all four (4) of its Regional DNA laboratories. ADFS was proud to be the first statewide system to validate and implement the Identifiler PCR testing system, a DNA testing system that was recently made available to the forensic community that has unmatched sensitivity, is capable of producing results at all 13 of the required CODIS core loci in a single amplification, and is well suited for high throughput testing.

In its continuing Grant efforts, ADFS has continued to expand on the previous successes and collaborate with local law enforcement in a joint effort to identify, review, and prioritize previously unanalyzed No Suspect cases, perform DNA testing upon prioritized cases, and ultimately generate No Suspect DNA profiles which provide the greatest chance of assisting in the resolution of serious crime.

Through the gracious allocation of Federal funding to ADFS, the effectiveness of Alabama's judicial system as a whole has been significantly enhanced through funds received to date. The capacity of each of the four (4) DNA Casework Laboratories situated throughout Alabama, as well as the timely scientific analysis of No Suspect DNA cases by the Department of Forensic Sciences has been significantly improved.

With its receipt of Federal Funding, the Forensic Biology Section embarked on a multi-faceted and aggressive Grant implementation plan. ADFS' energetic and effective approach focused on reaching out to local law enforcement in some of the major metropolitan areas of Alabama and initiating a joint effort to identify several hundred long forgotten sexual assault cases with no known suspect which may be good candidates for DNA testing and the subsequent search of the FBI's National DNA Index System (NDIS).

Once the sexual assault cases were identified, prioritized and collated, ADFS laboratories insured that the DNA testing was conducted in a timely manner, and routinely searches the probative DNA profiles against both the State and National DNA databases in an ongoing effort to identify the perpetrators of violent crimes as DNA databases continue to expand and be populated with convicted offenders and arrestee DNA profiles.

The urgency and dedication that the State of Alabama placed upon this Grant Program extended far beyond the State lines of Alabama, with ADFS regularly having a direct impact on numerous cases throughout the United States. A summary of some of the cases resolved through this Program is given below; as is one exceptional case that demonstrates the State's impact on the Criminal Justice system and captures the urgency afforded the No Suspect Backlog Reduction Program. A summary of the performance of ADFS in identifying perpetrators in previously unsolved cases from throughout the nation is further outlined below (As of August, 2010):

Summarizing Alabama's CODIS 'HITS'

The State of Alabama is pleased with its incredible success in identifying the perpetrators of unsolved cases, and strives to remain a national leader in this category. As of August 1, 2010, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences has identified two thousand six hundred eighty eight (2,688) 'Hits' between an unsolved case and an offender's DNA profile. These 'hits' have aided over three thousand individual investigations, with ADFS averaging greater than one ' cold hit' between an unsolved case and an offender per calendar day over the last three years.

Equally important is ADFS' ability to identify serial offenders, and through its recent Federal grant initiatives almost 1 in 10 of the No Suspect cases tested were subsequently identified to be linked as a serial case.

Selected Alabama "Hit" Stories

Since the onset of the No Suspect Grant Programs, Alabama's collaborative efforts with the US Department of Justice have been the focus of positive TV and media coverage, with many of the major media outlets throughout Alabama reporting on the positive aspects of such a productive Program.

In one jurisdiction, the collaboration between the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences and local Agencies focused on identifying and testing long forgotten sexual assaults that were prioritized by not only offense date, but also by degree of violence.

Between 1989 and 2000, seven women in this area were brutally raped. Some were abducted, beaten and threatened with guns and knives. These cases had lingered on the minds of local law enforcement and the citizens of this small community for decades, and were some of the first identified to be tested through ADFS' Grant Program.

"These cases were probably the worst of the worst," said the lead investigator who investigated the rapes and watched each lead become a dead-end. "And there was a fear that we'd dredge up old memories that they had tried to put behind them," he said. "But we quickly found out this is something you don't put behind you."

In August 1989, there was a report of a 56-year-old woman who lived alone who had been raped during a home invasion. The woman was asleep when the rapist broke in, terrorized and then raped her.

In June of 2005, after 16 years, the investigator finally got the name he had searched for when the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences notified him with the name of the identified suspect.

"When we first submitted these cases, my expectations were not very high," said the investigator.

This case is representative of so many cases tested in the course of the ADFS Grant Program, cases that without the aid of the US Department of Justice would still be sitting on the Property Room shelf today. The ADFS Biology Program has undeniably been a tremendous success in Alabama, providing victims young and old, ranging in age from the early teens to the late 80's, with some sense of closure. To date, District Attorney's and local law enforcement have communicated to ADFS that victims who have had their perpetrator identified by ADFS regularly still want to pursue prosecution, have their day in court, and face their attacker. This is yet another example of the value of such a Grant Program as well as its far reaching impact.

Recently, in another stellar example of the worth of the No Suspect Grant Program, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences was able to provide a major city's Police Department with the names of several individual serial rapists from the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Prior to the ADFS Grant initiative this Police Department had no indication that many of these cases were linked and the workings of serial rapists. Many of the serial rapes were predicated on children, and under violent circumstances.

In one specific set of serial rapes, ADFS was able to notify the District Attorney and Police Department that the cases tested were not only serial rapes, but had also been linked with additional serial rapes in the State of Georgia, and subsequently linked to a Federal Convicted Offender. To date, this offender has been linked to ten (10) different rapes across two (2) States over an assault time period of 5 years.

Being able to provide the criminal justice system with information on other linked cases in another State as well as the identity of the serial perpetrator is a shining example of the power of DNA technology, but more importantly, of the necessity and far reaching national impact of ADFS' Forensic Biology Program.

For more info on CODIS, please click here.
To order a DNA sexual assault kit, please click here.
To view videos on how to use DNA Collection kits, please click here.