U.S. Senate Acts to Support Crime Victims
As we close out 2023, we wanted to take note of a recent development in the U.S. Senate that bodes well for crime victims here in Idaho and the rest of the country.
In November, Senators on the Hill voted unanimously to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act, which since its initial passing has aided thousands of criminal investigations nationwide by helping fund crime labs to efficiently and swiftly test DNA evidence in rape cases and other crimes. The resources have been particularly beneficial in reducing rape kit testing backlogs.
In Idaho, the grant money has been used by the Idaho State Police (ISP) to upgrade its DNA capabilities, improve efficiency, buy new equipment, and work to eliminate rape kit testing backlogs. According to agency statistics, ISP lab staff analyzed 510 rape kits in 2022, and of those recorded 44 DNA matches in databases from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons.
While the legislation is named for a Virginia woman who was forced to wait years for justice after the collection of DNA from a rape kit, efforts to prioritize and support funding for rape kit testing have roots here in Idaho. In 2016, an audit determined that more than 1,100 untested kits were on shelves in police departments across the state, with at least one that hadn’t been tested since 1990. Overall, the audit accounted for more than 2,500 rape kits across the state.
Then in 2017, the Idaho Legislature got involved, approving bills to test and retain evidence kits and to establish the first statewide sexual assault kit tracking system. Now in Idaho, rape kits involving a felony or anonymous case must be retained for 55 years or until the sentence is completed.
U.S. Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo was one of 17 co-sponsors of the Debbie Smith reauthorization. He credited the legislation and the programs it funded for solving more crimes and helping countless victims find some form of justice.
“The Debbie Smith Act provides critical funding needed for ISPFS (Forensic Services) for updating equipment, providing training, and hiring employees to address and prevent backlogs and improve turnaround times for Idaho biology and DNA cases,” said Matthew Gamette, Lab Director for ISPFS.
We applaud Sen. Crapo and his colleagues in the Senate and encourage the House to take up this reauthorization in 2024. It’s had an incredible impact on law enforcement and achieving justice for victims, and it should continue to do so.
Matthew Hebb, State Director of Marsy’s Law for Idaho