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House Judiciary Committee Approves Bipartisan Bill to Protect Victims of Sexual Assault


Location: Washington, DC

The House Judiciary Committee today approved the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4323) by voice vote. This bipartisan bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), extends a federal grant program for state and local governments to reduce the backlog of DNA test kits through 2019.

The original Debbie Smith Act, authored by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), was passed in 2004 as part of the Justice for All Act, which ensured DNA evidence could be used to convict the right suspect and created a federal DNA backlog processing grant program to provide necessary resources to crime laboratories across the country. Since then, millions of dollars in federal funding have been appropriated under the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to process the hundreds of thousands of DNA evidence kits. The grant program's authorization is currently set to expire at the end of fiscal year 2014.

Chairman Goodlatte, Congresswoman Bass, and Congresswoman Maloney praised today's Committee vote to reauthorize this critical program in the statements below.

Chairman Goodlatte: "Debbie Smith's courage to speak out and advocate for others has done so much to protect victims. Today's strong Committee vote helps ensure that victims of rape won't be forced to live in fear waiting years for their perpetrators to come to justice and that sexual predators won't be left free to roam our streets and potentially assault more women. It's imperative that DNA analysis be completed quickly so that law enforcement officials can accurately identify, prosecute, and lock these criminals in jail. I urge Congress to move swiftly on this legislation so that we continue providing the necessary resources to protect victims of rape and bring criminals to justice."

Congresswoman Bass: "Because of the courage of Debbie Smith and the leadership of Rep. Carolyn Maloney, crime labs across the country are better able to reduce their DNA backlogs. More and more law enforcement officers and prosecutors have successfully used DNA evidence to bring rapists to justice. When something is working, we should let it continue to work without Congressional delay, and today's vote in the House Judiciary Committee is a big step in ensuring that rape victims from across the country get justice."

Congresswoman Maloney: "The Debbie Smith Act has been called the most important anti-rape legislation ever passed. Rape is one of the most heinous crimes. For every rapist put in jail multiple additional rapes can be prevented. That's why it is so critically important that we eliminate the estimated backlog of 400,000 unprocessed rape kits, and without this reauthorization that number will only grow. I was proud to introduce it in 2001, pass it in 2004 and reauthorize it again in 2008. And I'm happy to be working with Congresswoman Karen Bass, Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers to reauthorize the bill again this year."

The original Debbie Smith Act was introduced after rape survivor Debbie Smith testified before Congress in June 2001 about using DNA evidence to solve rape cases. In 1989, Debbie was kidnapped from her home in Williamsburg, Virginia, and dragged into the woods where she was raped. As Debbie notes in her letter to Chairman Goodlatte, the traumatic effect of the assault remained with her and her family for over six years, until her attacker's DNA sample was finally removed from the state's backlog and included in the national DNA database. The suspect was immediately linked to her rape, convicted of multiple felonies, and then sentenced to two life terms plus 25 years in prison.

Text of the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act can be found here. Original cosponsors of the bill include Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-Va.).

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