In an effort to address the growing backlog nationwide of DNA evidence for sexual assault cases, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2002 earlier this month. Introduced in May by Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the bill — which requires local law enforcement agencies to assess their DNA backlog — provides at least $335 million for laboratory processing of rape kits. In addition, the Act boosts federal grants to expand DNA testing, establishes grant programs for evidence collection and handling training and stipulates upgrades for the FBI’s DNA computer system. “The Department of Justice estimates there are 600,000 offender samples waiting to be tested and uploaded into the database. This situation is unacceptable,” Biden told the committee.
Biden’s bill was preceded by two companion bills in the House and the Senate. The Debbie Smith Act introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), requires that health officials test rape kits within 10 days of receiving them. On both sides of the Capitol, this bill has yet to be heard in committee. The Rape Kit DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2002, introduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also has yet to make it out of committee.
Prompt testing is particularly critical since the perpetrators are able to roam free in the meantime – which not only adds anxiety to the victim, but also leaves all women at risk, given that the average rapist commits eight to 12 sexual assaults. Adding considerable legal punch, the Biden bill authorizes John Doe/DNA indictments whereby DNA evidence may extend the five-year statute of limitations on a federal sexual offense.