Hernando County’s new rapid DNA technology sparks concerns of accuracy, possible injustice

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Hernando County SO Patrol Cruiser // Credit: Facebook, Florida Sheriffs Association

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Hernando County is the first of about a dozen Florida Sheriff’s offices to integrate Rapid DNA testing during the booking process. But, there are some red flags over the system’s reliability.

The new technology develops a DNA profile from a sample mouth swab in 1-2 hours without the need for a DNA laboratory and without any human interpretation.

“It is actually looking for hits as far as if that DNA matches another DNA sample that was used at a crime.”

Justin Beetz, a Lieutenant at the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, says the biggest benefit of the new technology is time saved.

“It’s cutting our wait on processing DNA from weeks to a couple hours, that’s probably the biggest benefit.”

But Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst with the ACLU says it comes with risks.

“For years, DNA analysis has been done by trained professionals, according to rigorous protocols in accredited laboratories, and still we’ve seen terrible scandals where sloppy work has led to false convictions, wrongful convictions, wrongful arrests, et cetera.”

He worries what will come when police officers, with less training, are now doing the analysis.

“There’s just going to be – a risk of injustices is going to be even higher. That the machines won’t be operated well, the contamination of samples, faulty profiles, etcetera that lead to miscarriages of justice”

Currently, FDLE’s DNA database supervisor says there are still many challenges to overcome before Rapid DNA devices can be used for crime scene sample analysis.

However, the FDLE towards crime scene use.

“Crime scene evidence is a whole different ball game, because samples can be degraded, they can be mixed with many different people’s DNA. The FBI said ‘Don’t try using these machines for that’ and yet we’re seeing that happen, so that’s another example where you can get wrongful convictions.”

Currently, all samples are still being mailed to FDLE for manual testing, even after using the Rapid DNA testing technology.

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