The Debbie Smith Act of 2019 (S 820, 116th Congress) would amend portions of both the DNA Analysis Backlog elimination Act of 2000 (34 U.S.C 40701) and the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act 2004 (34 U.S.C 40722(b) and 34 U.S.C. 40723(d)). By amending these previous Acts, the Debbie Smith Act of 2019 attempts to eliminate a backlog of DNA samples collected relating to homicide and sexual assault cases. The Act is divided into three sections:
- DNA Backlog of Grant Program Improvements: This section provides provisions to ensure that laboratories have a written policy to prioritize homicide and sexual assault DNA testing. To evaluate the effectiveness of this grant program, this Act also commissions a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to describe actions taken by the Department of Justice since a 2018 report on the DNA Capacity Enhancement and Backlog Reduction Grant Program, provide recommendations for reforms that could reduce the backlog of unanalyzed DNA evidence in sexual assault cases, and evaluate the grant program. The report would analyze the effectiveness of this program through quantitative outcomes (e.g., total number of new DNA requests, total number of samples analyzed), and would be issued every three years.
- Training and Education
- Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Grants
These two final sections would amend the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act 2004 to extend the Act from 2019 to 2024. This part of the Act also would give authority to the Attorney General to develop and disseminate grants on providing training, equipment, and technical assistance to medical personnel about the DNA analysis process.
A 2018 report from the GAO indicates that, in 2016, 270,000 requests for DNA analysis were made; that same year, there were 150,000 backlogged requests. According to the Office of Justice Programs, within the Department of Justice, he large number of backlogged requests arise because processing DNA requests is time consuming and expensive. The Debbie Smith Act of 2019 provides funding to process DNA samples, resources to create plans to reduce the backlog, and strengthens the national DNA database (Combined DNA Index System or CODIS).