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Laws About the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog

Federal Laws

The Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program (Debbie Smith Act) (42 U.S.C. 14135; Title II of the Justice for All Act) was enacted in 2004, reauthorized in 2008, and amended by the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. The Act provides federal funding for state and local governments to address the backlog of DNA evidence at crime laboratories. The grants are intended to be used to analyze backlogged DNA crime scene samples, including rape kits, and offender DNA samples for inclusion in CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System).  The funds are also used to ensure timely processing of new evidence by increasing the capacity of labs to process more DNA samples. The Act requires governments that receive grants to create plans for the reduction of the backlog and meet privacy requirements for processing the kits. The Debbie Smith Act also supports both the SAFER Act (PL 113-4) and the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act (PL 112-253).

  • SAFER: Ensures that at least 75 percent of DNA funding goes towards analyzing untested crime scene DNA evidence or increasing lab capacity. Allows funds to be used conduct one-time audits of sexual assault evidence in law enforcement custody. Establishes audits and reporting to bring transparency and efficiency to the testing process.

  • Katie Sepich Act: Provides additional, one-time funding to states facing increased forensic DNA program costs due to expanded state laws for offender DNA collections.

 The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting Act of 2013 (SAFER Act) became law on March 7, 2013 as Title X of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (113 P.L. 4).  The SAFER Act aims to reduce the sexual assault kit backlog through a variety of funding streams and reporting mechanisms.  Specifically, the SAFER Act amended the Debbie Smith Act (42 U.S.C. 14135) to create grants to audit the sexual assault kit backlog, providing that between 5%-7% of funding authorized under the Debbie Smith Act be allocated for audits of the sexual assault kit backlog. 

The SAFER Act also requires that no less than 75% of the funding allocated under the SAFER Act must be directed at reducing the sexual assault kit backlog and increasing the capacity of labs processing sexual assault kits through 2018.  Additionally, the Act authorizes the provision of technical assistance to states in the area of sexual assault kit backlogs, and requires that protocols for processing of the kits be established within 18 months of the law becoming effective.

The SAFER Act requires reports from the Attorney General of the United States to Congress concerning Debbie Smith grants made.  The reports are to include information on where the grants are awarded and summarizing the numbers of kits tested as well as the number remaining untested.  Finally, the Act applies the VAWA accountability provisions to the SAFER grants, and repeals the Debbie Smith Act audit grants effective 2018.

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