Government Labs

Government-funded crime labs, whether labeled local or state, play a crucial role in forensic DNA analysis in criminal investigations. These and other government labs, including regional and federal facilities like the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, operate at different levels of law enforcement. Several factors influence which lab a particular law enforcement agency will work with, and it could differ by case. Most agencies collaborate with their state labs, particularly when they lack a local lab.

These public labs function as arms of law enforcement, and many have specific labs devoted to DNA testing. In criminal investigations, they are instrumental in supporting law enforcement efforts by applying DNA analysis techniques to identify individuals and contribute to the overall administration of justice and solving crimes.

Private Labs

Private forensic DNA labs began to emerge in the late 20th century, coinciding with the rapid advancements in DNA technology and the increased recognition of the importance of DNA evidence in criminal investigations. The 1980s and ’90s brought the advent of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology, which greatly facilitated DNA analysis.

The establishment of private labs was driven by many factors like technological advances, growing demand, specialized services, timely results, and diversity of clients. These topics will be covered in more detail in our next article about the history of private forensic DNA labs.


Both government and private labs excel in different areas. Bringing these labs together in certain circumstances can reveal numerous advantages. By working in conjunction, these organizations can harness their respective expertise to enhance the analysis process’s accuracy, speed, and quality. We will go over the reasons why such partnerships are beneficial in the field of forensic DNA analysis.


The term backlog has many different definitions, but the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) defines it as a case that remains untested for 30 days after it has been submitted to a laboratory. Most of what is reported in the media refers to the sexual assault kit backlog, but a backlog could also include unsolved homicides and cases with serial offenders.  

There are fewer than 500 forensic labs that do DNA testing in the US that serve 19,000 law enforcement agencies according to DNA expert Kevin Lothridge. That leads to many evidence kits sitting untested. Backlogs are not a one-time event; they are ever-evolving with supply and demand. Today, many public labs do not have enough capacity to process all the demands of new casework. To address the backlog, initiatives have taken place over the last few decades. Direct grants have been provided to public labs to purchase better equipment so that they can process multiple DNA samples simultaneously and hire additional personnel.

Funding can also be used to outsource backlogged cases to private laboratories. When public labs collaborate with private labs to tackle backlogged cases, efficiency improves. The analysis of the evidence is expedited at the private labs which ensures a more efficient and timely resolution while allowing public labs to focus on high-priority cases and issues.

Combined DNA Index System (CODIS)

CODIS serves as the national DNA database playing an important part in DNA profiling. When a DNA profile meets the criteria and requirements for database upload, it opens the possibility of identifying a match to the perpetrator or linking the DNA to a different crime, potentially revealing a serial offender.

It’s important to note that private labs do not have direct access to upload DNA profiles to CODIS as this function is inherently governmental. However, when collaborating between government and private labs, the government lab can technically review the private lab’s output, and then, the public lab can facilitate the upload to CODIS. Public labs that partner with a private lab should exercise due diligence to ensure that the private lab can produce a profile meeting the standards for CODIS upload. Verification methods may include checking the lab’s accreditations, conducting tours of the facility, and reviewing data generated by the private lab.

End-to-End Integration

State and local crime labs, or public labs, have the advantage of being directly involved in criminal investigations. They are sometimes an arm of the respective law enforcement agency, and investigators work directly with the employees at the lab. By partnering with forensic DNA labs, they enable a seamless integration of the forensic DNA analysis process into ongoing investigations. This integration helps ensure that crucial evidence is efficiently and effectively analyzed, providing timely results that can aid in identifying suspects or establishing innocence and guilt.

Shared Resources and Expertise

Collaboration enables the pooling of resources and allows both parties to leverage their strengths. State and local crime labs often have access to forensic experts with vast experience and knowledge specific to local crime trends. By working with private forensic DNA labs, they can tap into innovative technology, advanced laboratory equipment, and specialized personnel devoted solely to DNA analysis. This constructive collaboration leads to a comprehensive approach that maximizes the chances of accurate and conclusive results.

Variety of Expertise

Private forensic DNA labs specialize in DNA analysis, and this can involve employing advanced techniques and methodologies that would not be available in public labs. However, state and local crime labs have expertise in widespread areas of forensic science with various forensic disciplines beyond DNA analysis. By collaborating, these labs can benefit from each other’s knowledge, assisting in the interpretation of complex findings, and providing a holistic perspective on forensic investigations. This multidisciplinary approach can bolster the weight of the evidence and facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of the crime scene.

Quality Assurance and Accountability

Collaboration brings an added layer of quality assurance and accountability to forensic DNA analysis. Both government and private crime labs adhere to stringent accreditation standards and protocols, ensuring their work meets industry best practices. By working together, these labs can maintain quality throughout the analytical process which enhances the integrity and reliability of the results generated.


Independent crime labs are pro-science. Both law enforcement and prosecutors can benefit when labs are independent. The labs provide an unbiased evaluation of the physical evidence. They remove the appearance of bias when cases are later presented in court. Jurors may understand private labs are not affiliated with law enforcement and are impartial. Understanding the impartiality, jurors can place trust in the private labs and, accordingly, more trust in the law enforcement and prosecutors presenting the case.

Cost Considerations

Government crime labs may hesitate to outsource to private DNA labs due to cost concerns. While law enforcement often works with government-operated labs at no direct expense, there may be overlooked financial opportunities. For instance, judges might approve reasonable fees for outsourcing, and court-appointed funds could potentially cover the expenses for work at private labs. Looking over potential funding sources could make outsourcing to private DNA labs a more viable and cost-effective option than initially perceived.


The teamwork between government crime labs and private forensic DNA labs is an important relationship in forensic DNA analysis. This collaboration blends their strengths by boosting efficiency, accuracy, and quality in criminal investigations. By working together, the criminal justice system can tap into the latest DNA analysis advancements and maximize its potential to secure fair outcomes in the pursuit of truth and justice.

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