President Obama signed bipartisan legislation Dec. 16 that includes ABA-supported provisions to improve victims’ rights and increase resources for reducing the substantial backlog for forensic testing of rape kits.
The legislation, the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 2577) – which cleared Congress on Dec. 1 – amends and strengthens provisions in the Justice for All Act of 2004, the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2004 and the Innocence Protection Act of 2004 by:
•reauthorizing grants to victims assistance programs;
•requiring defendants to make restitution to victims;
•reauthorizing the DNA Backlog Grant Program;
•expanding and increasing funding for the Forensic Sciences Grant Program to improve the forensic science testing capacity of federal, state and local crime laboratories,
•expanding grants to provide preference to sexual assault nurse examiners in rural or underserved areas;
•expanding and increasing authorized funding for FBI and DNA technology grants to identify missing persons; and
•increasing access to post-conviction DNA testing.
The legislation also reauthorizes the Capital Case Litigation Initiative (CCLI), which improves the quality and effectiveness of legal representation in death penalty cases through training for prosecutors and for defense attorneys who represent indigent defendants in state capital cases.
In addition, key provisions of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 will be strengthened regarding the state compliance certification process, and the requirements for adopting national prison rape standards will be revised and expanded.
“The programs authorized by the Justice for All Reauthorization Act are a smart use of taxpayer dollars that ensure the integrity of our justice system,” Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said during Senate debate on the bill in July, emphasizing the importance of ensuring competent representation for defendants and, when appropriate, access to postconviction DNA testing.