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National Center for Victims of Crime calls on Congress to renew its commitment to crime victims

For Immediate Release

Contact: Kath Cummins

Washington, DC -- The National Center for Victims of Crime applauds today’s bi-partisan approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2013, and calls on the full Senate and House to pass this vital legislation.

Earlier today, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Justice for All Reauthorization Act (S. 822), which reauthorizes the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Act and amends the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration. The House of Representatives has yet to introduce a companion bill.

“Congress must act fast to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act or funding for this vital program could lapse – resulting in an surge of backlogged DNA evidence at crime laboratories throughout the country,” said Mai Fernandez, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

The legislation is sponsored by Senator Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) and currently supported by nine co-sponsors. It has the endorsement of the National Center for Victims of Crime and an alliance of victim advocacy groups, including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN).

“Every untested rape kit has the potential to solve a crime and get serial rapists and murderers into custody, said Ms. Fernandez. “This bill will ensure jurisdictions have the funds to use DNA to make our communities safer.”

More about the Debbie Smith Act

The Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Elimination Act provides funding to states and local governments to address their backlogged rape kits and other DNA evidence at crime labs across the country. Originally passed in 2004 and reauthorized in 2008, the Debbie Smith Grant Act has provided over $584 million to crime labs for DNA analysis that has helped identify perpetrators of the most violent crimes – rape and murder.  While this funding has made a significant dent in the national backlog of rape kits, communities across the country are still struggling to keep up with testing. Just last week, a Massachusetts Senate Committee announced that the Boston police crime lab faces an “unprecedented backlog” of rape kits due in part to “staffing concerns.”

In 2012, the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization (S.47) amended the Debbie Smith Act with legislation called the SAFER Act. That measure allowed law enforcement to use the funds to count the number of untested sexual assault kits a community has in its backlog - important evidence which has never made it to the local or state crime lab. For example, the Memphis Police Department recently confirmed that it has approximately 8000 untested sexual assault kits in its property rooms. This amendment will now assist communities in their struggle to understand the scope of their untested kit problem and plan for getting those kits to the lab for analyzing.

More about the amendments to the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act

The Justice for All Reauthorization Act also addresses victims’ rights by amending the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) to give victims the right to be informed of their rights and available services and to be provided contact information for the victims’ rights ombudsman. The bill would also give appellate courts a longer period of time to consider an alleged violation of a victim’s right in cases where time is not of the essence and the parties agree to an extension of time. Current law requires appellate courts to rule on such claims within 72 hours; this abbreviated time for consideration has made courts reluctant to issue publishable opinions. Advocates hope this provision will lead to more thoroughly considered legal opinions regarding crime victims’ rights.

The bill approved by the committee also included an amendment offered by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), to give federal crime victims the right to timely notice of a plea bargain or deferred prosecution agreement and to clarify the standard of review when a victim claims a violation of rights. These additional amendments to the CVRA would further promote justice for crime victims, and are welcomed by advocates.

The National Center for Victims of Crime, established in 1985, is the nation’s leading resource and advocacy organization for crime victims and those who serve them. For more than 25 years, the National Center has led this nation’s struggle to provide crime victims with the rights, protections, and services they need to rebuild their lives.