October 01, 2014

Washington News Brief: Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act

President Obama signed a bill September 29 that reauthorizes the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program, which provides funding to state and local governments to reduce the backlog of DNA testing in criminal investigations, particularly for rape and sexual assaults. P.L. 113-182 (H.R. 4323) extends the program with an authorization level of $968 million through fiscal year 2019 to provide $151 million annually for the backlog grant program; $13 million annually for grants for DNA training and education for law enforcement personnel, court officers, forensic science professionals and corrections personnel; and $30 million for DNA training, technical assistance, education, equipment and information for the collection, preservation and use of DNA samples and evidence by various medical and other personnel. The law, originally enacted in 2004, is named after a rape victim who testified before Congress about the traumatic effect she and her family experienced until a suspect was linked to the crime, convicted and sent to prison. This happened because the attacker’s DNA sample was tested six years after the crime and included on the national DNA database. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who sponsored H.R. 4323, noted in a statement that as of July 2014 the FBI national database included nearly 572,000 forensic profiles from crime scene samples, and this information has aided more than 242,000 investigations nationwide. “Each of these DNA kits represents a life that has been shattered by the horrors of rape. Sadly, we can’t take way the pain and fear these women have experienced, but we can provide necessary resources used to solve these crimes so that they don’t have to live in fear waiting for their perpetrators to be found and brought to justice,” he said. The ABA supports the legislation and appropriate funding to protect sexual crime victims’ rights by eliminating the backlog of rape kits through rape kit testing performed in accredited laboratories by qualified personnel following standardized procedures.

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