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Committee Approves Bill to Clear DNA Backlog for Rape Cases

Legislation (S. 2513) designed to expedite and improve the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases was approved by unanimous consent on July 18 by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was the subject of a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs on May 14 (see The Source, 5/17/02).

Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act would require the Attorney General to conduct a nationwide survey of police department case files to assess the backlog of untested rape kits. The bill would authorize $500,000 for the survey and $275 million over five years in new funding for grants to states and local jurisdictions for DNA testing of formerly unprocessed evidence in rape cases. Although there are no exact numbers, the committee estimates there may be as many as 180,000 to 500,000 backlogged cases nationwide.

The legislation would authorize $60 million over five years for federal grants to states and local governments to test the DNA of convicted felons and $10 million to update a national DNA database that would link state systems. Additionally, the bill would authorize federal indictments against any individual suspected of sexual offenses based on DNA evidence beyond the five-year statute of limitations.

A substitute amendment proposed by Sen. Biden, and adopted by unanimous consent, would divide a proposed grant program for training into two programs with separate funding. The substitute would authorize $150 million over five years for the Sexual Assault Nurses Examiners program to train nurses on how to collect and handle DNA evidence and address the medical and emotional needs of sexual assault victims. A five-year program to train law enforcement officials and first responders in the collection and handling of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases would be authorized at $50 million.

Additionally, the substitute would allow local jurisdictions to apply directly for grants rather than applying through state programs.

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