Chairman Nadler Floor Statement in Support of H.R. 777, the Debbie Smith Act of 2019
Washington, DC, October 23, 2019
Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following remarks on the House floor in support of H.R. 777, the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2019:
“I rise in strong support of H.R. 777, the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2019. The Debbie Smith Act, named for a courageous woman who has fought for the rights of survivors of sexual assault, is critical to helping states process DNA evidence and reduce the nation’s large backlog of untested DNA samples.
“This law, which I helped author and enact in its original form in 2004, was developed in response to a crisis of untested DNA samples—a problem that we have helped to reduce, but which unfortunately still requires our urgent attention today. Over the past several decades, evidence from DNA samples has helped to solve an increasing number of criminal cases and has been particularly valuable in identifying the perpetrators of the horrific and all-too-common crime of sexual assault.
“The use of DNA evidence kits in sexual assault cases is critical, and it is imperative that the evidence that is collected is analyzed as soon as possible. When the evidence is collected and processed, the DNA profile is added to the Combined DNA Index System so that matches against other DNA profiles can be sought, increasing the scope of the database.
“By testing the DNA evidence left at the scene of a rape or sexual assault, we can increase the likelihood of identifying the perpetrators, making it more likely that they will be captured and punished. This, in turn, allows victims to obtain some measure of justice and society to take violent criminals off the streets. DNA evidence also allows us definitively to exonerate the falsely accused. However, over time, crime labs across the country regrettably developed a large backlog of DNA samples that they had not tested, an intolerable situation calling out for federal action.
“In response, in 2000, I supported the passage of the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act, which provided $40 million to help states analyze DNA evidence and, in 2002, I introduced the Rape Kit DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act. This legislation authorized funding to help police departments finance the testing of rape kits to reduce the backlog. Working with my colleagues and with advocates, we maintained the pressure to address this problem.
“Then, in 2004, I was an original cosponsor of the Justice for All Act, introduced by our colleague, Jim Sensenbrenner. That bill included many of the provisions of my 2002 bill. Title II of that bill, named the Debbie Smith Act by Congresswoman Maloney, authorized substantial funding for DNA testing and strengthened the ability of state and local law enforcement specifically to test rape kits. We subsequently reauthorized the Debbie Smith Act in 2008, and again in 2014.
“In recent years, the grants we have reauthorized under the Debbie Smith Act have supported the work of crime labs to build capacity and process DNA evidence, including evidence collected in rape kits, with greater percentages of funding allocated to testing these kits provided in subsequent amendments.
“The Act also supports audits of evidence awaiting analysis at law enforcement agencies and charges the Department of Justice with the task of maintaining national testing guidelines.
“Despite these efforts, the rape kit backlog continues to be a major concern, with a large volume of kits still untested in this country, harming the survivors of sexual assault and jeopardizing public safety. Therefore, we must continue the valuable programs authorized by this important law.
“That is why we included the reauthorization of this program in the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill developed by the Judiciary Committee and passed by the House earlier this year, but which is languishing in the Senate.
“While we take steps to separately pass the reauthorization of the Debbie Smith program today, I again call on the Senate to fulfill their responsibility to pass the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization without additional needless delay. Therefore, I support H.R. 777 and reserve the balance of my time.”