Sep 9, 2001
Press Release

NEW YORK: Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY), together with Barry Scheck, National Legal Expert on the Use of DNA in Criminal Proceedings, and Debbie Smith, crime victim whose attacker was caught through DNA evidence, announced sweeping reform today, outside of Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, for the collection and processing of DNA in sex crime cases.

Congresswoman Maloney said, "DNA evidence is our best weapon to fight rapists, but it's not being used effectively. The failure to process DNA evidence quickly and correctly has left thousands of victims without justice. In New York City alone, we have the potential to resolve 16,000 unsolved rape cases if we could just process the 18 month backlog of DNA evidence."

Mr, Scheck said, "The failure to process sexual assault rape kits in unsolved cases is a national scandal. Getting DNA samples processed in 7 to 10 days after a crime should be the most important goal of law enforcement today so that rape and sexual assault cases can be solved."

"Each kit that's thrown away represents a life," said Ms. Smith. "I can't tell you the relief I felt when they told me, 'We have the DNA evidence.' It was the first time in six and a hlaf years I could fell myself breathe."

The following remarks from Congresswoman Maloney include a description of "The Debbie Smith Bill," as well as city and national statistics regarding sex assault crimes and the collection of DNA evidence:

"As our nation debates scientific advances that may help Americans five, ten or twenty years from now, we have the technology to help people today and, as a nation, we are not doing enough to take advantage of it. As a result, criminals are going free and women are suffering. I am talking about DNA evidence to accurately identify perpetrators of rape. We all know that such evidence exists - it's been around for several years. But across America and here in New York, the use of DNA in rape cases is languishing.

"Here are the facts and they are awful: First, most hospitals in the United States, and right here in New York, don't have sufficient facilities or training to collect DNA evidence. Only six of more than 60 hospitals across the city have adequate programs to collect DNA evidence. Ninety-five percent of rape survivors never see a professionally trained examiner. The consequences are an American scandal: In one in five cases where DNA evidence is collected by untrained examiners, the evidence is inadmissible in court.

"Second, there is no standardized evidence kit to collect DNA. That increases the likelihood that DNA evidence will be thrown out. Third, there's a staggering backlog of undocumented DNA precisely because there aren't enough hospital-based evidence programs or enough standardized evidence kits. In New York City alone, the backlog averages 18 months with 16,000 unsolved rape cases pending because DNA evidence is collecting dust. Meanwhile, rapists go unconvicted, a gruesome thought when you consider that the average rapist commits 8 to 12 sexual assaults.

"Today I'm announcing the introduction of legislation in Congress to stop this tragedy. I'm calling it the 'Debbie Smith Bill' named for the courageous woman here with us today whom you'll be hearing from shortly.

"Here's what the Debbie Smith bill will do:

. First, it would provide the funds needed to standardize evidence collection kits for sexual assaults. With the standardization all DNA will be collected in a systematic way. This will expedite the processing which will allow for the DNA evidence to be placed in the FBI Combined DNA Index System database more quickly.

. Second, my bill will provide for the training of sexual assault nurse examiners... and training for law enforcement and first responders. This will ensure that the DNA is properly collected and handled so that no evidence will be excluded during trial.

. Third, my bill will provide resources to forensic labs to complete the examination of DNA evidence.

. And finally, my bill will require that states implement a plan, within 5 years, to complete all DNA evidence testing within 10 days of receipt.

"How much will the Debbie Smith bill cost? Only 250 million dollars. If that sounds like a lot, it is a minuscule, almost unnoticeable amount in the context of our federal budget. And what it could save us in terms of expediting law enforcement and giving rape survivors peace of mind is worth so much more.

"Debbie Smith would be the first to tell you that. Mrs. Smith was taken from her home and brutally raped in the woods behind her own home. Her husband, a Williamsburg, Virginia Police Detective, was asleep upstairs. Mrs. Smith was unable to identify the masked man. But DNA, as we know, is better than many eyewitness accounts. DNA doesn't forget, and DNA cannot be intimidated by defense counsel. Three years after Mrs. Smith was raped, DNA helped to put her assailant away. It's time we make DNA work to stop rape and sexual assault here in New York and across the country."