MU Forensic Science Center Receives New Classification

DNA Lab MU Forensic Science Center

Senate Bill 104 was passed during the legislative session and it changes a classification and that opens new doors for the Marshall University Forensic Science Center.

The new classification means that Marshall University Forensic Science Center is an official criminal justice agency.

The criminal justice agency designation is a recognition of the infrastructure as well as the expertise of our DNA analysts that we’ve developed over the years. Terry Fenger is the founding director of the forensic science center. The new law classifying the center as a criminal justice agency allows the facility to apply for grants and funding that allow them to expand operations. Funding from federal agencies like the FBI require this classification. 

“Our ability to apply for certain types of grants that were essentially not available to us before and these are federal grants that we’re talking about, so based on eligibility requirements in these grants often times they say a publicly funded laboratory or a state or local criminal justice agency, this type of language,” Fenger said.

The Marshall University Forensic Science Center presents a unique atmosphere. The facility houses a DNA Analysis Laboratory that’s nationally accredited to work with criminal casework analysis, training and research. At the same time the Marshall University Forensic Science Center is educating students. The two parts of the program remain separate, but operate in conjunction. Jason Chute is the DNA Technical Leader at the DNA Lab. 

“We process criminal casework, so evidence is collected at a crime scene by technicians or law enforcement agencies,” Chute said. “They collect that evidence and package it up and in some cases that evidence is sent to us. We then examine that evidence for the presence of biological fluids, materials and process that for DNA analysis.”

 The new classification will also allow work with other facilities. But that’s not anything new for the forensic science center. In the past they’ve tested DNA kits for cities like Miami, New Orleans and Detroit. And recently they’ve increased a workload with the West Virginia State police that started in the early 1990’s. Now they work with the West Virginia State Police helping to test rape kits for different counties throughout the state including Cabell. It’s the developing relationship with the state police that Fenger and Chute think was key in obtaining the new classification. 

“I think it’ll be a game changer, some of it, we may not be able to anticipate everything it can do for us, but I’m excited for what this could potentially do to our current relations and our future relations and I’m talking about the relations we have with state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States,” Chute said.

As part of the Senate Bill 104, the West Virginia State Police Crime Lab will still have first say on which grants or sources of funding they wish to apply for, but when they decide not to apply for funding from a particular source, that will open the door for the Marshall Forensic Science lab. Senate Bill 104 was approved by a vote of 98-0 in the House of Delegates and a 34-0 vote in the Senate during the regular legislative session.