National Crime Victims Week is recognized each April to raise public awareness about the rights and concerns of victims and survivors of crime in the United States. This national recognition provides opportunities to honor crime victims, survivors and those who provide help in the aftermath of a crime. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made and take stock of additional steps needed to make certain effective and timely responses are in place to help with recovery and exact justice. I am a longtime supporter of annual Senate resolutions designating this national recognition to promote continued focus on the impact of crime on individuals, families and communities and any needed steps to improve crime response and recovery.
Making certain resources are in place that support prompt and thorough forensic investigations to bring perpetrators of crime to justice is a central part of obtaining justice for crime victims, stopping criminals from being able to act again and ensuring a fair criminal justice system. In March, I joined a bipartisan group of fellow Senators in introducing legislation that would provide needed resources to state and local law enforcement agencies and forensic labs to complete forensic analyses of crime scenes and untested rape kits, including the processing of rape kits by Idaho State Police. Fellow Senate Judiciary Committee Members Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., led the introduction of S. 820, the Debbie Smith Act of 2019, which would reauthorize the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant.
This grant program is named for Debbie Smith, of Virginia, who did not see justice following her rape until years after DNA evidence was collected. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service explained that rape kits “may remain untested for reasons such as limited resources of laboratories and law enforcement and police discretion.” In 2004, Congress enacted legislation to establish the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to reduce the backlogs of untested DNA evidence.
S. 820 would reauthorize the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program credited with enabling state and local crime laboratories with processing hundreds of thousands of cases and uploading DNA profiles in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s DNA database. The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently considering S. 820. I also joined fellow Senators in urging Senate appropriators to provide sufficient funding for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant program in upcoming federal funding legislation. We wrote, “Since 2005, the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program has enabled state and local crime laboratories to process more than 860,000 cases and upload over 376,000 DNA profiles to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), accounting for 43 percent of all forensic profiles in this system. During this time, Debbie Smith DNA Grants were also responsible for 45 percent of all matches made in the CODIS system.”
I look forward to advancement of this and other needed legislative efforts to protect crime victims, ensure timely justice and prevent violent crime.
Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has served in the U.S. Senate since 1999. The views and opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Independent-Enterprise.