Maloney Wins Big On DNA Rape Bill
The U.S. House of Representatives last Friday passed legislation to help capture rapists and put them behind bars by strengthening the use of DNA evidence in the law enforcement process. The bill will also support the processing of DNA evidence to track down perpetrators of other crimes and to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction. The legislation, "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003" (H.R. 3214) passed in the House by an overwhelming vote of 357-67.
The bill contains legislation originally authored by Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens/Manhattan) called "The Debbie Smith Act." The "Debbie Smith" provisions in the bill authorize federal funds to:
1) Wipe out the backlog of unprocessed DNA evidence from rape crimes (estimated at 500,000 nationwide),
2) Train Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE) so that medical professionals, law enforcement officials and prosecutors are able to gather and use DNA evidence effectively, and
3) Establish a national standard for the collection of DNA evidence and transfer of the information to a national databank.
Maloney said, "This new law will pull rapists off the streets and throw them behind bars, case closed. By processing DNA evidence from prior rape crimes, we can identify repeat rapists, stop them in their tracks, and prevent thousands of future sexual assaults from ever occurring. This is truly lifesaving legislation. Rape kits should be in the lab undergoing analysis, not stuck on the shelves of a warehouse
The bill also contains "The Innocence Protection Act" which will ensure that federal and state inmates have access to DNA testing.
Maloney authored the original "Debbie Smith Act" after Smith testified before the House Government Reform Committee in June 2001 about using DNA evidence to solve rape cases. Smith was raped near her home in 1989. For six and a half years, she lived in fear that her attacker would return to kill her. Only on the day that her husband told Smith that the man who had raped her, who had been identified because of DNA evidence, already was in prison, was she able to live without fear.
Provisions of the "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003" would authorize: $755 million for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program. (Annual victim costs alone, after rape crimes, are estimated at $127 billion.), $500 million for additional grant programs to 1) improve capacity of federal, state, and local crime labs to conduct DNA analyses; 2) reduce other forensic science backlogs; 3) train criminal justice personnel in the use of DNA evidence; 4) support sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) programs; and 5) promote the use of DNA technology to identify missing persons and $25 million over five years to help the States to defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing.
Of a total backlog in New York City of 17,800 DNA kits, 13,255 have been returned to the NYC Medical Examiner’s office. More than 17 percent of the processed backlog linked unsolved cases to known criminals who were not previously suspects or linked different crimes to the same person through DNA. Of a total of 924 cases from the 13,255 that matched with other DNA evidence, more than:
* 332 of the matches linked the case to an already convicted person who was not previously a suspect in the case in which DNA evidence was processed.
* 419 of these matches involve cases where investigators do not yet know who the attacker is, but have linked different crimes to the same person through the DNA evidence.
* 173 of these matches confirmed via DNA that a person was guilty of a crime for which they were already convicted. (Source: New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, as of March 2003).
In 2002, Senior Counsel in the Manhattan DA’s office Martha Bashford and Melissa Mourges got indictments for 32 victims’ cases with the use of DNA evidence, up to 38 as of February 6, 2003. Other counsel at the Manhattan DA’s office got seven more indictments from DNA matches in 2002.
While New York City remains a national leader in processing the backlog of DNA evidence, there is still work to do in the city to ensure the proper collection and processing of DNA evidence. Only 10 percent of New York City hospitals currently have fully developed Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) programs, where staff becomes trained in the proper collection and processing of DNA evidence.
The "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003" is legislation that we must make law while we have the opportunity, Maloney declared.
* There were an average annual 140,990 completed rapes, 109,230 attempted rapes, and 152,680 completed and attempted sexual assaults between 1992 and 2000 (victims among persons age 12 or older). Source: National Crime Victimization Survey, U.S. Dept. Of Justice
* Less than 6 percent of women who have been raped see their attacker spend a day in jail under current systems. Source: "Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network" website http://www.rainn.org/statistics.html.
"We know from the New York City evidence that reducing the backlog of DNA evidence solves crimes and gets criminals off the streets," Maloney added.