Anti-Crime Legislation Passes Congress
10/9/2004 11:15 AM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Anti-Crime Legislation Passes Congress
Senators Reach Agreement on DNA and Victims' Rights Bill Without Objection
Spokespeople Available Including Legislative Staff,
1st DNA Exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth & Debbie Smith, Rape Survivor
WASHINGTON, October 9, 2004 - The US Senate today passed by voice vote an amended version of the "Justice for All Act of 2004" (HR 5107). This anti-crime bill includes the "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act" (HR 3214/S 1700) and crime victims' rights legislation. The amended bill will be sent back to the US House of Representatives for final approval. This amendment has already been agreed upon in negotiations between the House and Senate.
The legislation provides much-needed funds to test a nationwide backlog of more than 300,000 rape kits and other crime scene evidence, funding for victims' services through grants to prosecutor and defender offices, ensures access to post-conviction DNA testing for those serving time in prison or on death row for crimes they did not commit, and it authorizes grants to states to improve the quality of death penalty trials as well as assist families of murder victims.
"I commend the Members of Congress who voted today to make the justice system more fair and more accurate for everyone," says Kirk Bloodsworth of The Justice Project, whose case was the first capital conviction to be overturned as a result of DNA testing. "Today's passage is an important step in fixing a flawed system. I hope the President will make justice a priority and sign this important legislation into law."
The bipartisan legislation has enjoyed the support of dozens of leaders from the victims' rights community, who endorse both the Debbie Smith Backlog Grant and the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Programs.
"I couldn't be happier to hear this news," says Debbie Smith, a Virginia rape survivor who waited six years for the evidence in her rape kit to be tested. "Americans, especially victims and those wrongfully convicted, need to have confidence in our justice system. This bill will give states the funding they need to serve justice more quickly and accurately."
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About the Justice for All Act of 2004 (HR 5107):
Two core components include:
- Crime Victims' Rights:
This portion of the bill provides substantive rights for crime victims, as well as mechanisms to enforce these rights. It also authorizes $155 million in funding over the next five years for victims' assistance programs at the Federal and state level, including victim/witness assistance programs at the offices of the United States Attorneys, enhancement of the victim notification system at the Department of Justice, organizations that provide legal counsel and support services for victims, and creation of state-of-the-art victims' rights laws and compliance systems in the states. This component of the bill includes provisions very similar to S 2329, the victims' rights bill sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), which in April 2004 passed the Senate by a wide margin.
- DNA Testing:
The Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act (HR 3214 / S1700) is the product of a bi-partisan, bicameral compromise led by Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). On November 5, 2003, HR 3214 passed the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 357 to 67. The Senate version of the bill (S 1700) passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 11 to 7 on September 21, 2004.
The House-approved version of the bill (HR 3214), which is now a part of the Justice For All Act, will provide much-needed funds to test the DNA backlog, provide funding for victims' services through grants to prosecutor and defender offices, and ensure access to post-conviction DNA testing for those who may be in prison or on death row for crimes they did not commit. The bill:
- Enacts the Debbie Smith Backlog Grant Program, providing $755 million to test the backlog of over 300,000 rape kits and other crime sceneevidence awaiting analysis in our nation's crime labs;
- Enacts the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act and the Rape Kits and DNA Evidence Backlog Elimination Act, authorizing more than $500 million for programs to improve the capacity of crime labs to conduct DNA analysis, reduce non-DNA backlogs, train examiners, support sexual assault forensic examiner programs, and promote the use of DNA to identify missing persons;
- Creates the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program and authorizes $25 million over five years to help states pay the costs of post-conviction DNA testing; and
- Authorizes grants to states for Capital Prosecution and Capital Defense Improvement, which will be used to train, oversee, and improve the quality of death penalty trials, as well as assist families of murder victims.
The Justice Project [ http://www.thejusticeproject.org ] (TJP) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that addresses issues of social justice here and abroad. TJP's Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform [ http://www.cjreform.org ] is a national initiative focused on addressing flaws in the American justice system. The Justice Project is affiliated with the Criminal Justice Reform Education Fund [ http://www.cjedfund.org ].