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House Reaffirms Support for DNA Analysis Bill

On October 6, the House approved, 393-14, a bill (H.R. 5107) that would incorporate the text of the Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act (H.R. 3214) and would grant specific rights to all victims of federal crimes. The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure on September 22 (see The Source, 9/24/04).

Sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the Justice for All Act would allow inmates access to post-conviction DNA testing and would include a number of provisions important to women.

H.R. 5107 would authorize $755 million over five years for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program. This program would provide grants to states and local authorities to eliminate the current backlog of over 300,000 rape kits, other sexual assault evidence, and samples taken in cases without an identified suspect currently awaiting DNA analysis in crime labs.

The bill would expand the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to provide legal assistance for victims of dating violence. The bill also would authorize grants to nonprofit, nongovernmental tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions for programs under VAWA.

The measure would incorporate the text of the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act (S. 152). Sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), this bill would provide grants for training and educating law enforcement, judicial authorities, and medical personnel on the use of DNA analysis in sexual assault cases.

H.R. 5107 would confer the following rights upon victims of federal crimes:

  • The right to be reasonably protected from the accused;
  • The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public proceeding involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused;
  • The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court determines that testimony by the victim would be materially affected if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding;
  • The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding involving release, plea, or sentencing;
  • The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the government in the case;
  • The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law;
  • The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay; and
  • The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victims’ dignity and privacy.

The bill would authorize $16.3 million in FY2005 and $26.5 million for FY2006 through FY2009 for witness assistance programs, enhancement of the victim notification system at the Department of Justice, and the National Crime Victim Law Institute. In addition, $5 billion would be authorized for FY2005 through FY2009 for crime victim notification grants to state, tribal, and local prosecutors’ offices.

Democratic cosponsor of the Debbie Smith Act (H.R. 1046) Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) told the story of Debbie Smith, who testified before a House committee: “She recounted how in 1989 she was dragged from her kitchen and raped in her backyard while her husband was asleep upstairs. She lived in fear for years because the rapist said that he would come back and kill her. Then she finally learned after 6 years that, through DNA processing, they had found a cold hit identifying her assailant, who had been jailed 6 months after her assault for another crime, but for 6 years she literally lived in agony.” Rep. Maloney added, “The dismal reality in this country is that only 6 percent, according to the FBI, only 6 percent of women who have been raped will ever see their attacker spend a day in jail. Yet we know that each unprocessed DNA kit represents a life like Debbie Smith’s, and it represents a rapist which the FBI tells us will attack, on the average, eight times. By processing this evidence, we may be able not only to convict rapists, but to prevent them from harming other men and women in our country.”

Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH) stated, “Sadly, for far too many women, the grief of rape and other forms of sexual assault is compounded by the lack of apprehension, prosecution and conviction of the perpetrator. As my community has recently witnessed first hand with the arrest of accused serial rapist Robert Patton, Jr. in the Columbus area, linking DNA obtained at rape scenes to the DNA of felons already convicted of crimes through the FBI’s combined DNA Index System is often the best chance we have to close a painful chapter in the lives of women who have been victims of rape and sexual assault. It is also the best chance to put rapists behind bars before they have a chance to repeat their crimes.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved its version of the Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act (S. 1700) on September 21 (see The Source, 9/24/04). The Senate approved a victims rights’ bill (S. 2329) on April 22 (see The Source, 4/23/04).

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