Senate Committee Advances Bipartisan Bill to Help Clear Backlog of Untested Rape Kits

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday advanced a bill that would reauthorize programs to reduce the backlog of untested DNA evidence on a voice vote, setting it up for potential floor consideration in the near future.

The Debbie Smith Act (S. 820) was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and would reauthorize programs to reduce the DNA evidence backlog through 2024. Debbie Smith Act programs are the primary federal effort to end the backlog of untested DNA evidence and began when the Debbie Smith Act of 2004 became law and was reauthorized in 2008 and 2014.

Debbie Smith was sexually assaulted by a stranger who broke into her home in 1989, and although she underwent a forensic exam the evidence wasn’t analyzed until 1994. When it was finally entered into the FBI’s national database (known as CODIS) it yielded a “hit” identifying the perpetrator who was already incarcerated on a 161-year sentence for robbing and abducting two women. He was brought to trial and eventually convicted for Debbie Smith’s rape as well.

The bill has the support of 16 bipartisan cosponsors including Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who recently revealed that she is a survivor of sexual assault, and Democratic presidential contender Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). It also has companion legislation in the House sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

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