Senate Passes BIDEN’s Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act
September 25, 2008
Today, the Senate passed Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s (D-DE) Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008, legislation designed to help eliminate the nationwide backlog of rape evidence kits and bolster DNA testing of criminals and crime scene evidence. The original law – authored by Sen. Biden and set to expire at the end of FY 2009 – helped standardize the evidence collection of kits for sexual assaults, making it easier to enter the information into state and national databases. The law also provided funds to help forensic labs process the DNA evidence and compare the DNA samples with those taken from criminals. Today’s reauthorization bill would extend the important program through 2014 and help solve thousands of rapes and other violent crimes.
It is estimated that 40 percent of the unsolved rape cases could be solved by taking the DNA sample collected after a sexual assault and comparing it to the existing DNA databases of convicted felons and rapists. The U.S. Department of Justice has estimated that there are at least 221,000 rape kits currently on the shelves in evidence lockers, untested and gathering dust. The Debbie Smith Grant Program has helped alleviate some of the backlog and has expanded testing to solve more crimes, but much more needs to be done.
“If there’s a rape kit left sitting on a shelf, there’s a victim without justice. This program must be kept alive until the backlog numbers total zero,” said Senator Biden. “It is unconscionable that we have the ability to solve these crimes and hold the perpetrators responsible, but because of red tape and lack of funding, the criminals are free and their victims continue live in fear. In the past five years, we’ve made headway in the backlog, but we still have a long road to go before it is eliminated.”
After holding Judiciary Committee hearings on the backlog of rape kits waiting to be tested, Sen. Biden introduced and Congress passed the Advancing Justice Through DNA Act in 2004 to help states eliminate their DNA backlog and allow law enforcement greater leeway to indict unnamed individuals using their DNA profile.
The bill was named for Debbie Smith, a Virginia woman who was raped near her home in 1989 and lived in fear until a crime laboratory discovered a DNA match between the rape scene evidence and a State prisoner’s DNA sample. That match gave Mrs. Smith her first moment of real security and closure, and since then she has traveled the country to advocate on behalf of assault victims and champion the use of DNA to fight sexual assault.
The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008 provides:
• $151 million per year for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to eliminate the current backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples in the nation’s crime labs. This money will provide federal grants to state and local governments over the next six years for DNA analysis of unprocessed evidence in rape cases;
• $12.5 million per year for the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act help local law enforcement agencies put the DNA profiles of convicted felons into state and national databases. It also provides training grants to help ensure that nurses, police and paramedics know how to best collect and preserve DNA evidence in sexual assault cases; and
• $30 million per year for the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Grants to ensure that there are trained and equipped personnel to assist with the treatment and examination of sexual assault victims, including Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE).