12.31.12

Senate Approves Leahy-Backed Bill To Reduce Rape Kit Backlog

WASHINGTON (Monday, December 31, 2012) – U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Monday hailed the Senate’s passage late Sunday of legislation to improve the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Program, a successful grant initiative aimed at reducing the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the country.

The provision coauthored by Leahy and attached as an amendment to the SAFER Act improves the Debbie Smith Program, a program enacted in 2004 to reduce a national backlog of rape kits. Leahy’s amendment helps to ensure that law enforcement can receive funding and support to ensure that rape kits are promptly tested.  With the Senate’s passage, the House must now take up this bipartisan measure in the final days of the legislative session.

“Large numbers of additional untested kits have come to light in police departments, many of which never make their way to crime labs at all,” Leahy explained in a statement.  “It is unacceptable to let victims of these terrible crimes live in fear while evidence languishes in storage and criminals remain on our streets.”

The addition of Leahy’s amendment to the SAFER Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that provides for audits of untested rape kits in law enforcement agencies, means law enforcement will be given the tools they need to help effectively work to reduce the backlog of rape kits throughout the country. The language was also included in this year’s Justice for All Reauthorization Act, which was approved by the Judiciary Committee in June. While that broader and impactful bill focusing on criminal justice will not be enacted this year, Leahy said the advancement of legislation to improve the Debbie Smith Act will give a new purpose to a critical program. He thanked Senator Cornyn and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for working out a deal to improve the SAFER Act and for committing to work to pass the broader Justice for All Act next year.

“I thank Senator Cornyn for working with me and agreeing to this amendment to ensure that this legislation will result in more kits being processed,” Leahy said. “I am glad we take an important step to help achieve justice for victims of rape and sexual assault.  I hope we will go still further next year and beyond.”

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Opening Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
on Passage of S. 3250, the SAFER Act

December 30, 2012

I am glad that the Senate today has passed the SAFER Act with important amendments I requested to ensure that law enforcement gets the support and funding it needs to make real progress in processing rape kits.

The Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Program, which was a key part of the bipartisan Justice for All Act that passed in 2004, has been instrumental in reducing the number of untested rape kits in crime laboratories around the country.  However, large numbers of additional untested kits have come to light in police departments, many of which never make their way to crime labs at all.  It is unacceptable to let victims of these terrible crimes live in fear while evidence languishes in storage and criminals remain on our streets. 

I have made fixing this significant problem a priority.  I included important new provisions addressing backlogs of rape kits in law enforcement offices in my Justice for All Reauthorization Act, which the Judiciary Committee reported with bipartisan support earlier this year.  My bill would provide law enforcement with access to funding to actually reduce their backlogs, along with best practices, training, and technical assistance they have requested to help them do so. 

Senator Cornyn and others have attempted to address this same problem through the SAFER Act.  The audit provisions included in the SAFER Act can help shed light on the problem, but I believe it is crucial that funding and assistance actually reach law enforcement agencies to help them address their backlogs and get kits tested.  That is why it is so important that the provisions from the Justice for All Reauthorization Act doing just that were incorporated into the SAFER Act.  I thank Senator Cornyn for working with me and agreeing to this amendment to ensure that this legislation will result in more kits being processed.  I also thank Senator Grassley for helping to facilitate this agreement and for adding important accountability measures.

I want to thank Debbie Smith, the courageous survivor after whom the grant program we modify today is named, and her husband Rob, for their continuing tireless work to ensure that others need not experience the ordeal Debbie went through. Their efforts have made a real difference to countless victims all over the country.

The Justice for All Reauthorization Act includes many other significant measures to make the criminal justice system work better for all Americans.  I am disappointed that it will not pass this year.  I appreciate Senator Grassley’s support for the bill when it was reported from Committee, and I look forward to working with him and with Senator Cornyn and others to pass the full bill next year.

I am glad we take an important step to help achieve justice for victims of rape and sexual assault.  I hope we will go still further next year and beyond.

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