Debbie Smith Act Reauthorization Passes House

Jul 14, 2008
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – “The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008” (H.R. 5057), legislation that would extend an important federal DNA backlog processing program through FY 2014, passed the U.S. House of Representatives last night.  The bill is named for a rape survivor who testified before Congress about the use of DNA evidence.  Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced the bill, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) are original co-sponsors.

“We cannot stand by and let rapists roam free while the DNA evidence that could convict them goes unprocessed.  Passing the original Debbie Smith bill was a huge victory for Debbie Smith, and for the thousands of rape survivors like her.  That original landmark law is set to expire soon.  Reauthorizing the Debbie Smith Act will ensure we continue to keep criminals off our streets and put them in prison where they belong,” said Rep. Maloney“I want to thank Chairman Conyers and Ranking Member Smith for their help in moving this important bill forward.”

“This important legislation is due to expire with the end of fiscal year 2009, but the work is not finished.  In order to provide victims with the justice that our constitution promises, we need to continue this effort for five more years.  My case was solved through the use of DNA and I want every victim to have the same opportunity in their case.  Congresswoman Maloney is a champion for victims’ rights and this effort to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act shows her continued concern and support for victims,” said Debbie Smith.

Rep. Maloney authored the original “Debbie Smith Act” after rape survivor Debbie Smith testified before the House Government Reform Committee in June 2001 about using DNA evidence to solve rape cases.  Debbie was raped near her home in 1989, and for six and a half years she lived in fear that her attacker would return to kill her.  Debbie was finally able to live without fear when she learned that her rapist had been identified because of DNA evidence and was already in prison.   

“Thanks to the courage of Debbie Smith and her tireless efforts, we have made strides in reducing the DNA sample backlog in the nation’s labs,” Chairman Conyers said.  “Yet, there is much to do.  As the technology has become more popular, police and prosecutors are relying on it in ever-increasing numbers, which has prevented the backlog from reducing as much as we had hoped.  So, today we have recommitted ourselves to reducing the backlog to bring the guilty to justice, free the wrongly accused, and ensuring that justice is served.”

Ranking Member Smith said,  “Today’s vote is a strong victory for victims of rape across the nation.  Congress has a responsibility to promote laws that protect victims and ensure tough sentences for rapists. By providing federal funding to process DNA evidence, the Debbie Smith Act helps law enforcement officials take violent criminals off the streets and brings justice to victims nationwide.”  

Rep. Anothony Weiner (D-NY) said, “DNA evidence breathes new life into cold cases, solving hundreds in New York City alone, and can be a life saver for the wrongly accused. Today’s comprehensive DNA legislation will finally help eliminate the 500,000 plus nationwide rape kit backlog, train more forensic nurses, and build more crime labs.”

The original “Debbie Smith Act” was signed into law in 2004 as part of “The Justice for All Act,” comprehensive legislation that ensured that DNA evidence could be used to convict the guilty and free the innocent.  Since then, millions of dollars of federal funding have been appropriated under the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to process the thousands of unprocessed DNA evidence kits - including rape kits - across the country. 

“RAINN applauds Congresswoman Maloney for her continued leadership in championing the use of DNA in solving crimes of sexual violence,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).  “Congresswoman Maloney played a critical role in passing the original 'Debbie Smith Act' and today's approval to extend its authorization would not be possible without her.  The 'Debbie Smith Act' is the most important piece of anti-rape legislation Congress has ever passed and we urge the House and the Senate to act quickly on its reauthorization, which will help to take thousands of rapists off our streets.”

A bipartisan coalition of members of Congress, organizations, and crime victims like Debbie Smith worked together to pass the original “Debbie Smith Act.”  The president signed the bill into law just as police in New York State made their first arrest, based on an indictment of a DNA sample (“John Doe”), of a suspect in a sexual assault case from 1996.  The landmark law is set to expire at the end of FY 2009, but the reauthorization bill would extend the important program until 2014.

For more information on the Debbie Smith Act, click here: https://maloney.house.gov/index.php?option=com_issues&task=view_issue&issue=27&parent=3&Itemid=35.

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