12.16.16

Leahy Bill To Improve Criminal Justice System Signed Into Law

Bipartisan Justice for All Reauthorization Act Renews Leahy’s Groundbreaking Innocence Protection Act & Aims to Reduce Rape Kit Backlog

WASHINGTON (FRIDAY, December 16, 2016) – Legislation authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to help ensure that the criminal justice system functions fairly was signed into law on Friday by President Obama.

The Justice for All Reauthorization Act aims to reduce the rape kit backlog by supporting grant programs that fund forensic testing.  The bill, introduced by Leahy and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), also renews the Innocence Protection Act, a landmark Leahy law which includes the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program.  That program facilitates the use of post-conviction testing of DNA evidence that can exonerate the wrongly convicted and hold the guilty accountable.  The Justice for All Reauthorization Act also requires the Justice Department to assist state and local governments to improve their indigent defense systems and ensures implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

“Although there is more to be done, the Justice for All Reauthorization Act takes important steps to even the scales of our justice system.  This criminal justice reform law will improve our indigent defense system, ensure access to post-conviction DNA testing, and make sure that the rights of crime victims, including survivors of sexual assault, are protected,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.  “I will continue to fight alongside leaders like Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated by DNA evidence after being sentenced to die, and Debbie Smith, who fought for years to have her rape kit tested, to ensure our criminal justice system has integrity and inspires confidence.”

He added:  “When it is available and when it is used, DNA evidence can help convict the guilty, and exonerate the innocent.  It can help make sure that the right people are caught and punished and aren’t left on the street to commit other crimes.  As we consider legislation next Congress, we must remember that we have a continuing obligation to look out for all victims and to create fairness in our criminal justice system.”

Leahy has long worked to reduce the rape kit backlog and advance several bills in support of sexual assault survivors.  In 2014, he led the successful effort to pass legislation renewing the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Program.  Leahy also included language in the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Act, enacted in 2013, that significantly increased resources for survivors of sexual assault.

The Justice for All Reauthorization Act builds on Leahy’s work on VAWA by including key housing protections for victims of abuse whose partners get evicted for domestic violence.  Finally, the bill builds upon the success of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by making it easier for crime victims to have an interpreter present during court proceedings and to obtain court-ordered restitution.

A sectional analysis of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act can be found here

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