House Moves to Renew Vital DNA Law
Provides federal funding to process the backlog of untested rape kits
A bill to renew the Debbie Smith Act, the federal government’s primary tool to eliminate the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved rape cases, has been introduced in the House of Representatives. House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced the bill.
The Debbie Smith Act (the DSA), originally passed in 2004 and widely considered one of the most important laws ever passed by Congress to fight sexual violence, has helped states test DNA evidence from tens of thousands of rape kits.
The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4323) extends critical funding for the processing of the DNA from the backlog of untested rape kits. “With the reauthorization of this legislation, federal funding will continue to allow the nation’s crime labs to analyze these backlogged rape kits— bringing survivors and their families one step closer to the justice they deserve,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN.
A Senate bill to renew the act, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting final passage by the Senate.
Media reports estimate that there is a backlog of hundreds of thousands of unanalyzed DNA samples in state or local crime labs and at evidence warehouses across the United States.
Congress prioritized the processing of DNA from crime scenes by passing and, in 2008, reauthorizing the DSA; it is set to expire later this year. Last year, the SAFER Act amended this law to bring transparency to the testing process and make funds available to local law enforcement to audit their backlogged sexual assault forensic evidence.
“Victims of rape shouldn’t have to wait years for their perpetrators to come to justice simply because their DNA evidence is backlogged. We must do everything we can to expedite the processing of DNA evidence so that we take these criminals off of our streets and prevent other women from being victimized, said Chairman Goodlatte. “A decade ago, Congress passed the Debbie Smith Act to help law enforcement find, prosecute, and lock these perpetrators in jail by reducing the DNA test kit backlog across the country. I am pleased to join Congresswoman Karen Bass in introducing a bill to reauthorize this critical program and urge Congress to move swiftly on this legislation.”
Representative Bass said, “Fortunately, Democrats and Republicans are working together to make sure that victims of rape are not victimized again because the evidence that was taken as part of rape kits is not being processed. When a rape victim is assaulted, the current law ensures the victim’s injuries are treated and that evidence is properly collected and maintained. The program has worked, and this legislation will ensure that it will continue to work. I want to thank Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for her leadership on introducing the original Debbie Smith Act and Chairman Goodlatte for reaching across the aisle to ensure that we continue to help people when they need it the most.”
Debbie Smith, for whom the law is named, said, “The years I spent waiting for justice can never be returned to me. I was always afraid and constantly looking over my shoulder. But other victims do not have to go through this. On behalf of the many rape victims who have reached out to me and for the thousands more awaiting justice, I thank our champions in the House and the Senate for prioritizing this important legislation.”
“DNA has revolutionized the way that we identify perpetrators and prosecute rape cases in the 21st century. We’re grateful to Reps. Goodlatte, Bass and Maloney and Sens. Leahy, Cornyn and Mitch McConnell for their hard work to ensure that this vital law does not expire,” said Berkowitz.
DNA evidence from rape cases not only helps police identify rapists in existing unsolved cases, but also prevents future assaults and spares potential new victims by bringing perpetrators to justice early in their criminal careers.
Visit the RAINN Action Center to #ActwithRAINN and ask your representative to co-sponsor H.R. 4323.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of "America's 100 Best Charities" by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org) in partnership with more than 1,000 local rape crisis centers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. The hotlines have helped more than 1.9 million people since 1994. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. For more information about RAINN, please visit rainn.org.