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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S. 1700

Location: Washington, DC


S. 1700. A bill to eliminate the substantial backlog of DNA samples collected from crime scenes and convicted offenders, to improve and expand the DNA testing capacity of Federal, State, and local crime laboratories, to increase research and development of new DNA testing technologies, to develop new training programs regarding the collection and use of DNA evidence, to provide post-conviction testing of DNA evidence to exonerate the innocent, to improve the performance of counsel in State capital cases, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce a comprehensive bipartisan bill which will ensure the full use and availability of DNA technology in our criminal justice system. This bill, which enacts the President's DNA technology initiative, announced by Attorney General Ashcroft on March 11, 2003, will provide over $1 billion in funding and assistance over the next 5 years to the criminal justice system in order to realize the full potential of DNA technology to solve crimes, protect the public and exonerate the innocent.

The legislation I am introducing today represents a bipartisan compromise which was reached through extensive negotiations among Senators on the Judiciary Committee and members from the House Committee on the Judiciary. I want to first commend my counterpart, Chairman Sensenbrenner, for his steady leadership on this issue and his commitment to reaching an agreement, and note the commitment and dedication of Representatives Conyers, Coble, LaHood, and Delahunt to this important initiative.

I also want to commend my colleagues here in the Senate: Senators Biden, Specter, Leahy, DeWine, and Feinstein—who each have a long-standing commitment to issues included in this comprehensive DNA bill. We have worked together on DNA issues for many years, and thanks to each of their efforts we now are in the position to enact bipartisan legislation that enhances the use of DNA technology in our criminal justice system. I want to express my personal thanks to all of them for their leadership and contributions to this important piece of legislation.

Also, I want to highlight specifically the accomplishment today of the ranking member of our Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy. For several years, Senator Leahy has dedicated himself to the issue of DNA technology and ensuring that such technology is used to protect the integrity of our criminal justice system by exonerating the innocent while punishing the guilty. He has worked tirelessly in this area as the sponsor of the Innocence Protection Act. While we both shared a common goal of protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system, we differed on the means to accomplish that end.

Today, I am proud to support the compromise proposal we have negotiated, and join together with my friend, Senator Leahy, to introduce the Innocence Protection Act of 2003 as part of this legislative package. I want to specifically congratulate Senator Leahy for his accomplishment and for his dedication to this important issue.
It is perhaps fitting that 50 years after the discovery of DNA by Dr. James Watson in 1953, we are now proposing to enact the most far-reaching and comprehensive expansion of DNA technology to promote public safety, to bring to justice violent criminals who can be identified through DNA technology, and to ensure the accuracy of our criminal justice system.

Let me take a moment to highlight the important provisions of this bill.

The bill enacts the President's comprehensive DNA initiative, "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology," and will authorize funding of $755 million for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program in order to eliminate the current backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples in our Nation's crime labs. It is critical that such funding be appropriated to ensure that unanalyzed evidence from violent crime scenes, such as rape and murder, are compared against known DNA samples to solve these terrible crimes and apprehend the perpetrators.

As many of you know, Debbie Smith is the courageous survivor of a horrific sexual assault, and has become a leading spokesperson for women and crime victims across the country. Debbie Smith waited 6 years before Norman Jimmerson, a current inmate in a Virginia prison, was identified as her attacker through DNA. Debbie testified against Jimmerson, who is now serving two life sentences plus 25 years with no chance of parole.

Debbie Smith has dedicated herself to the elimination of the backlog in the processing of DNA evidence and samples. By eliminating the substantial backlog of DNA samples for the most serious violent offenses, we can solve more crimes, protect the public and apprehend more violent criminals. The National Institute of Justice estimates that the current backlog of rape and homicide cases is at least 350,000 cases. NIJ also estimates that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 collected, but untested convicted offender samples. In addition, the Justice Department estimates that there are between 500,000 and 1,000,000 convicted offender samples which have not yet been collected as required by law.

The President has directed the Justice Department to eliminate these backlogs completely within 5 years, and I am committed to doing everything in my power to make that a reality to ensure that the evidence is analyzed, the crimes solved and the criminals punished to the fullest extent of the law.

The proposed legislation also will solve more crimes by expanding State and local crime lab capacity to test DNA. Crime laboratories face increasing workloads and increased DNA analysis demands. Only 10 percent of public crime labs have automated facilities needed to process DNA testing, and help is needed in this area. We must expand the capacity of these laboratories to meet current demand and build for future needs. That is what the bill will do.

The bill also will increase research and development of new technologies to test DNA; provides training of criminal justice professionals to enhance collection and understanding of DNA evidence; and expands existing programs to train medical personnel who typically are the first to have contact with sexual assault victims so that they can collect and preserve critical biological evidence for DNA testing and comparison purposes.

Some have suggested that focusing exclusively on DNA technology ignores the significant need for funding and assistance to State and local crime labs for non-DNA forensic analyses. The proposed bill expands the Paul Coverdell Grant Program to provide assistance to the States to eliminate non-DNA forensic evidence backlogs. I recognize that forensic examination of ballistics evidence, fingerprints, suspected illegal drugs, and other evidence is critical to our criminal justice system. I am committed to addressing these needs as well in order to protect the public.

The legislation will not only speed the apprehension and prosecution of the guilty, but will protect the innocent from wrongful prosecution. DNA technology allows us to exclude innocent people as suspects early in an investigation, and allows law enforcement to focus on finding the true perpetrator.

The Innocence Protection Act of 2003, developed under the leadership of Senator Leahy, which is included as Title III of this bill, creates a federal post-conviction DNA testing scheme which authorizes DNA testing and relief for a convicted defendant, where the defendant claims he is "actually innocent" of the crime, and demonstrates that such testing shows that they did not commit the crime. DNA testing will not be permitted where such a test would only muddy the waters and be used by the defendant to fuel a new and frivolous series of appeals. Under the Act, DNA testing in capital cases will be prioritized and conducted on a "fast track," so that these important cases are handled quickly.

In order to discourage a flood of baseless claims, the act authorizes the prosecution of defendants who make false claims of innocence in support of a DNA testing request. Each defendant will be required to assert under penalty of perjury that they are, in fact, innocent of the crime. When DNA testing reveals that the defendant's claim of innocence was actually false, the defendant can then be prosecuted and, if convicted, will be subject to a consecutive term of imprisonment of 3 years. Further, the act allows DNA test results to be entered into the CODIS database and compared against unsolved crimes. If the test result shows that the defendant committed another crime, the defendant may then be prosecuted for the other crime.

With respect to the States, the act encourages States to create similar DNA testing procedures, and provides funding assistance to those States that have existing DNA testing programs or that implement such DNA testing programs after enactment of this act. In honor of Kirk Bloodsworth, a death row inmate, who was eventually freed through post-conviction DNA testing, the bill creates and names a grant program after Mr. Bloodsworth to help the States conduct appropriate post-conviction DNA testing. With the new source of funding, more States will enact DNA testing programs, and will provide such testing on an expedited basis.

While DNA testing is now standard in pretrial criminal investigations today, the integrity of our criminal justice system and in particular, our death penalty system, can be enhanced with the appropriate use of DNA testing. No one disagrees with the fact that post-conviction DNA testing should be made available to defendants when it serves the ends of justice. I am convinced that the proposed legislation does so fairly and effectively with proper regard for the rights of the defendant and the interests of victims and their families.

Finally, Title III of the bill creates a new grant program to improve the performance of counsel—prosecutors and defense counsel—handling State capital cases. The issue of the death penalty in our country continues to spark significant debate.
The recent Supreme Court decisions addressing capital punishment underscore the importance of this issue to the American people. It is an issue that engenders great passion, both among its supporters and among its opponents. A large majority of the American people believe in the death penalty, especially for terrorists who have killed thousands of Americans. And all of us agree that the death penalty must be imposed fairly and accurately.

I have stated on numerous occasions my views on the death penalty. It is the ultimate punishment and it should be reserved only for those defendants who commit the most heinous of crimes. I am firmly convinced that we must be vigilant in ensuring that capital punishment is meted out fairly against those truly guilty criminals. We cannot and should not tolerate
defects in the capital punishment system. No one can disagree with this ultimate and solemn responsibility.

I have disagreed with others on the committee as to the state of our Nation's capital punishment system, the quality of representation in State capital cases, and whether such sentences are meted out fairly. I am proud, however, to support this proposal where we can all agree—we can improve the performance of counsel on both sides by awarding grants to States.
These funds will be equally divided between prosecutors and defense counsel, and are designed to reduce to the maximum extent possible the occurrence of error in the conduct of capital trials in our States. We all agree that reducing trial error is a laudable goal. By doing so, we enhance the fairness of our capital punishment system.

Every defendant in our criminal justice system is afforded the guarantee by the sixth amendment of our Constitution of competent and effective counsel. The Supreme Court has enforced this right in numerous decisions in order to ensure that all defendants are afforded the constitutional protections guaranteed to them.

At the same time, the public is entitled to quality representation by prosecutors who handle capital cases. Training and monitoring the performance of prosecutors who handle these important cases will ensure that States and the public are fully and effectively served in the trial of capital cases.

Contrary to the view of some, I do not believe that our capital punishment is broken. However, I do believe that our justice system can always be improved. The grants proposed under the act will enable states to improve the performance of prosecutors and defense counsel to ensure that capital cases are handled more efficiently and effectively, and that every capital defendant will receive a fair trial under our justice system.

DNA technology has the power to convict the guilty and protect the innocent and will move our criminal justice system into a new era that is both fair and efficient. The President's DNA initiative is a forward-looking measure, which will improve significant aspects of federal, state and local criminal justice systems. We are poised to enter that new era. With this comprehensive proposal, we will ensure the use of DNA technology and protect the public safety.

I strongly urge my colleagues to join with me in promptly passing this important legislation.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to print in the RECORD a section-by-section analysis.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:


Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, it is my understanding that this legislation makes certain of its grants contingent on States providing a process for post-conviction testing available. For those States that already have enacted a statute providing such testing, that statute must ensure a meaningful process for resolving a claim of actual innocence. As I understand it, almost all of the State statutes already in existence, including those of Ohio, Utah, Delaware and Pennsylvania, would pass muster and would qualify for the grants at issue. Is that the understanding of the Senator from Delaware?

Mr. BIDEN. Yes, I thank the Senator from Utah for his question, and wholeheartedly agree with his understanding of this provision. I believe all of the drafters of this legislation are in agreement that most of the States that already have passed statutes, except for the few that limit post-conviction DNA testing to capital crimes, would pass muster. For example, even if a State's statute differs from the Federal law by imposing a meaningful time limit for filing of applications for testing, or excluding guilty pleas from eligibility, it would qualify. Specifically, Utah, Delaware, Ohio and Pennsylvania, among others, under their statutes, or the re-enactment of those statutes where they have expired, would be eligible for such grants.

However, States that have not yet enacted a statute would be required to enact a statute, or follow a rule, regulation or practice, that met a higher standard—the statute, rule, regulation or practice would need to be "comparable" to the Federal law in order for the State to qualify for the grants. I see the Senator from Pennsylvania on the Floor. I would be happy to yield to the distinguished Senator to hear his thoughts on this matter.

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