Weekly Column: Supporting Idaho Crime Victims | U.S. Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho
The Senate recently unanimously passed legislation important for exacting justice and helping crime victims in Idaho and across the country. S. 499 would reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act, which has provided Idaho law enforcement agencies with resources to complete forensic analyses of DNA from crime scenes and untested rape kits. I have been a longtime supporter of this important legislation that supports prompt and thorough forensic investigations to bring perpetrators of crime to justice.
The Idaho State Police Forensic Service Laboratory (ISPFS) has used Debbie Smith Grants to upgrade its DNA capabilities, improve efficiency and cut down on its backlog. For example, the grants have been used to purchase new DNA genetic analyzers, paid the salaries for DNA laboratory employees working Idaho DNA cases and enabled the purchase of high-throughput DNA robotics. In Idaho State Fiscal Year 2023 alone, the grants have assisted in the completion of more than 800 biology screening cases to determine if the material is suitable for generating a DNA profile and then the completion of more than 600 DNA cases.
Further, Laboratory staff analyzed 510 rape kits in calendar year 2022 and very importantly had 44 matches through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence and missing persons. Nationally, this program is responsible for more than 500 CODIS hits per week, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
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.
In February, I joined a bipartisan group of fellow Senators in introducing the Debbie Smith Act of 2023. Specifically, this legislation would reauthorize the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant program for another five years (fiscal years 2024 through 2029). The program has enabled the testing of DNA cases and increased the capacity to process DNA in order to guard against future backlogs. In addition to crime scene evidence, Debbie Smith funds are also used to process offender DNA samples to ensure evidence from unsolved crimes can be matched against a database of known offenders, similar to the criminal fingerprint databases. States have added to the qualifying offenses for convicted offenders to be added to the database. In Idaho, all felony convictions and those on the sex offender registry were approved for inclusion in the database. Those changes have led to the solving of more crime.
I have 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. Previously, I co-sponsored the 2019 reauthorization legislation in the Senate.
A total of 17 Senators are co-sponsors of S. 499 that is also endorsed by Debbie Smith, the Fraternal Order of Police, Major Cities Chiefs, Major County Sheriffs of America, National District Attorneys Association, Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), and Joyful Heart Foundation.
Reauthorizing this program will help stop offenders from being able to act again and ensure a fair criminal justice system. “We are doing an excellent job of tracking and processing sexual assault kits in Idaho,” wrote Matthew Gamette, Laboratory System Director for Idaho State Police Forensic Services. The Debbie Smith Act provides critical funding needed by ISPFS for updating equipment, providing training, and hiring employees to address and prevent backlogs and improve turnaround times for Idaho biology and DNA cases.”
I look forward to enactment of the Debbie Smith Act that supports this critical work in Idaho and across our country.