The Senate last week unanimously approved the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2002 (S 2313), a bill aimed at reducing the growing nationwide backlog of DNA evidence for sexual assault cases. Passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, the bill requires local law enforcement agencies to assess their DNA backlog and provides $335 million over the next five years to facilitate efficient processing of DNA rape kits. Introduced by Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the act also 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. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the bill’s co-sponsor, praised the Senate’s action: “This legislation will help bring justice to women for whom justice is long overdue.”
The Act includes provisions from a companion bill, the Debbie Smith Act, which requires that health officials test rape victim DNA samples within 10 days of receipt, introduced in the House and Senate by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Cantwell in May.
Prompt testing is particularly critical since the perpetrators are able to roam free in the meantime Ñ 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 Act authorizes John Doe/DNA indictments whereby DNA evidence may extend the five-year statute of limitations on a federal sexual offense and also includes privacy requirements for handling DNA evidence.
The legislation was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.