SENATOR KYLMr. KYL: Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003." This bill consists of the President's DNA initiative, which will expand and improve DNA databases used for criminal investigations and authorize additional funds to clear the backlog of untested DNA evidence in the nation's crime labs.
This bill offers several advantages over another version of the President's proposal that recently was introduced in the Senate. Today's bill gives states greater leeway in the use of DNA grants, removes arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions on the testing of criminal suspects' DNA samples, authorizes additional funds to clear the backlog of non-DNA forensics evidence, and - most importantly - avoids tying this critical program to unrelated and highly controversial anti-death penalty legislation. I include in the record at the end of this statement a news story that describes the nature of the state counsel and other extraneous provisions that others have sought to attach to the President's proposal.
The bill that I introduce today is an unencumbered - and unabridged - version of the President's DNA initiative: the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act and the Rape Kits and DNA Evidence Backlog Elimination Act, which authorize the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program and provide $755 million over five years to address the DNA backlog crisis in the nation's crime labs.
Today's bill includes the following improvements over other congressional versions of the President's proposal:
First, this bill also expands funding for non-DNA forensics funding. Section 211 of the bill authorizes $100 million in new grant programs to eliminate "the backlog in the analysis of any area of forensic science evidence, including firearms examination, latent prints, toxicology, controlled substances, forensic pathology, questionable documents, and trace evidence."
Second, this bill increases the authorization for the Paul Coverdell grant program, in recognition of the fact that this program never has been funded at more than a small fraction of its authorization. Other congressional versions of the President's DNA initiative only authorize decreasing Coverdell funding in the coming years. This bill resets the clock on the Coverdell program, authorizing 2004 funding at the level for 2001, and subsequent years accordingly. This will allow sharp increases in Coverdell funding in the coming years.
Third, today's bill allows states to test DNA samples from convicts seeking exoneration against the national DNA database, in order to determine if the convict has committed other rapes or murders. The other congressional versions of the President's DNA initiative would bar such testing; they effectively would give convicts a free roll of the dice to challenge their current convictions while protecting them against the risk that they will be linked to other crimes. There is no reason why states should be prevented from solving such other crimes. If DNA evidence is good enough to test a prisoner's conviction for the crimes that we do know that he committed, it also is good enough to establish the prisoner's involvement in crimes that we do not yet know that he committed.
Fourth, this bill includes all federal felony arrestees in the federal DNA database. Other versions of this bill exclude arrestees and place other unnecessary and arbitrary limits on the federal DNA index. The federal government already maintains fingerprints for all federal felony arrestees - there is no reason to treat DNA evidence differently. Nor is there any reason to prevent states and the federal government from solving other crimes committed by suspects arrested for a federal felony offense.
The Department of Justice has expressly informed Congress of the benefits of casting a wide net when including criminal suspects in the federal DNA database. During a July 17 hearing on the President's DNA initiative before the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Sarah Hart, the Director of the National Institute of Justice, testified that:
"The efficacy of the DNA identification system depends entirely on the profiles entered into it. Experience demonstrates that broad collection and indexing of DNA samples is critical to the effective use of the DNA technology to solve rapes, murders, and other serious crimes.
"The DNA sample that enables law enforcement to identify the perpetrator of a rape, for example, often was not collected in connection with an earlier rape. Rather, in a large proportion of such cases, the sample was taken as a result of the perpetrator's prior conviction for a non-violent crime (such as a burglary, theft, or drug offense).
"For example, in Virginia, which has authorized the collection of DNA samples from all felons since 1991, a review of cases in which offenders were linked to sex crimes through DNA matching found that almost 40% of the offenders had no prior convictions for sexual or violent offenses. Most serious offenders do not confine themselves to violent crimes. The experience of States with broad DNA collection regimes demonstrates that DNA databases that include all felons dramatically increase law enforcement's ability to solve serious crimes.
Fifth, today's bill tolls the statute of limitations when a perpetrator has been identified through DNA - including in rape cases. Other congressional versions of the President's initiative inexplicably exclude sexual-assault crimes from the initiative's DNA tolling provision. There is no reason to do so. Indeed, it is in sexual-assault cases that DNA evidence is most likely to identify a perpetrator. At the July 17 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee's Crime Subcommittee, the Department of Justice testified in favor of tolling the statute of limitations to the full extent permitted by the Constitution.
Sixth, this bill allows grants for DNA training and research to be made to prosecutors' organizations, universities, and other private entities. Competing bill versions limit such grants to state and local governments, which is inconsistent with the President's DNA initiative.
Finally, the bill that I introduce today does not include the so-called "Innocence Protection Act" (IPA), a controversial anti-death penalty bill. The other congressional versions of the President's initiative have incorporated the IPA as a third title to the President's bill. At the July 17 hearing on the President's initiative, the Department of Justice made very clear that it "do[es] not believe that legislation embodying the important proposals in the President's DNA initiative should be joined to these controversial [IPA] measures, which intrinsically are unrelated to DNA."
In an October 27 letter to several members of congress, the National District Attorneys Association also voiced strong objections to the capital-counsel provisions included in the IPA titles of the other bills. The NDAA's letter stated:
"Section 321 [of these bills] attempts to re-establish the old 'death penalty resource centers.' As you no doubt recall, Congress abolished funding for such centers because they devolved into organizations dedicated solely to the abolition of the death penalty and were staffed and controlled by those dedicated to the disruption of the criminal justice system by whatever means available, ethical or otherwise. Section 321 would cause a return to such tactics by removing the ability for the state judiciary to appoint counsel in death penalty cases and giving that authority to a self-appointed group of anti-death penalty attorneys.
" * * * * NDAA strongly urges deletion of Section 321 from this bill * * * .
"Elimination of Section 321 * * * keeps the appointment and control of capital defense counsel in the hands of state court judges who are responsible for insuring that defendants receive quality representation. With Section 321 there is no oversight of those individuals selected to develop state standards for capital defense counsel."
The IPA titles included in the other congressional versions of the President's DNA initiative would authorize $500 million in federal funding for state public defenders in state capital cases. There is no reason for Congress to finance the states' public-defender systems. The states adequately fund these programs themselves - indeed, many have enacted reforms and substantially increased funding for public defenders in recent years. When the IPA originally was introduced in 2000, it was targeted at the state of Texas. In 2001, the Texas legislature enacted reforms that completely overhauled the state's public-defender system. Yet the IPA provisions of the other Senate bill would declare Texas's reforms "ineffective," and would force the state to again replace its indigent-defense system. Such a mandate makes no sense.
Moreover, there is no reason why states cannot or should not fund their own indigent-defender systems. Basic principles of federalism dictate the each level of government should finance its own operations. Once states become accustomed to and budget for federal funds, they never are able to reject the money (or its conditions) in the future. And federal funding inevitably comes with increasing federal strings. In the long run, the states risk losing control over their own public-defender programs. There is no reason to start down this path.
The IPA proposals in the other congressional versions of the President's initiative begin by placing a number of conditions on the states' receipt of federal funds. Among these conditions is that states transfer control over capital defense to an "entity" composed of persons with "demonstrated knowledge and expertise in capital representation." (This means private defense lawyers; public prosecutors likely would be barred by their jobs from serving or would be conflicted out.) This new "entity" would be charged with: (1) setting standards for capital-defense counsel; (2) deciding which lawyers meet those standards; and (3) appointing lawyers from the roster of qualifying attorneys to represent defendants in particular cases.
Essentially, the bill's new "entity" would completely control staffing
of the defense in capital cases. From past experience with the "capital
resource centers," which were defunded by Congress in 1996, we know that
hard-core death penalty opponents tend to gravitate toward these jobs,
and will engage in litigation abuse when not supervised. Congress should
not require the states to repeat its own past mistakes. It should not place
anti-death penalty partisans in charge of public representation of capital
The other congressional versions of the President's proposal also include these additional highly problematic provisions:
They allow free DNA testing under very low standards. The competing bills provide that DNA tests shall be available to any prisoners if a negative test match would "raise a reasonable probability that the applicant did not commit the offense." This standard is too low. Not all DNA evidence clearly came from the perpetrator of the crime or had anything to do with the crime - for example, a blood spot near the crime scene may or may not have come from the perpetrator. The "reasonable probability" standard means a prisoner could secure a test even if, despite a negative match, the other evidence would still show that the prisoner more likely than not committed the crime. The bill requires only a chance that the prisoner did not commit the crime. Almost every prisoner with material to test will be able to meet this standard. Reopening old cases forces victims and their families to relive the ordeal of the crime. They should not be put through this unless a negative test result could at least show more likely than not that the prisoner did not commit the crime.
During the July 17 hearing before the House Crime Subcommittee, NIJ Director Sarah Hart expressly warned congress of the consequences of applying unduly low DNA testing standards. Director Hart testified:
"[W]hile post-conviction DNA testing is necessary to correct erroneous convictions imposed prior to the ready availability of DNA technology, experience also points to the need to ensure that postconviction DNA testing is appropriately designed so as to benefit actually innocent persons, rather than actually guilty criminals who wish to game the system or retaliate against the victims of their crimes. Frequently, the results of postconviction DNA testing sought by prisoners confirm guilt, rather than establishing innocence. In such cases, justice system resources are squandered and the system has been misused to inflict further harm on the crime victim. The recent experience of a local jurisdiction is instructive:
"Twice last month, DNA tests at the police crime lab in St. Louis confirmed the guilt of convicted rapists. Two other tests, last year and in 2001, also showed the right men were behind bars for brutal rapes committed a decade or more earlier.
"'[The St. Louis circuit attorney's] staff spent scores of hours and thousands of dollars on those tests. She personally counseled shaking, sobbing victims who were distraught to learn that their traumas were being aired again.
"'One victim, she said, became suicidal and then vanished; her family has not heard from her for months. Another, a deaf elderly woman, grew so despondent that her son has not been able to tell her the results of the DNA tests. Every time he raises the issue, she squeezes her eyes shut so that she will not be able to read his lips.
"'She finally seemed to have some peace about the rape, and now she's gone back to being angry,' the woman's son said.
"'DNA tests confirmed that she was raped by Kenneth Charron in 1985, when she was 59. To get that confirmation, however, investigators had to collect a swab of saliva from her so that they could analyze her DNA. They also had to inquire about her sexual past, so they could be sure the semen found in her home was not that of a consensual partner.
"The questioning sent the woman into such depression that she's now on medication. 'None of this needed to happen,' her son said.''"
Post-conviction DNA testing is not without its costs. It should be allowed only in carefully measured circumstances.
Another problematic provision in the other congressional versions of the President's DNA initiative would employ unduly low standard to authorize new trials for very old cases. This provision of these bills is designed to allow new trials for prisoners who may have been convicted 20 or more years ago. But it is very often impossible to retry a case this old - key witnesses die or disappear or their memories simply fade, and other evidence deteriorates or is lost. For many such cases, ordering a new trial effectively means that the prisoner walks free.
Congress should make sure that there is compelling evidence of innocence before ordering new trials in old cases. Unfortunately, these other bills would allow a new trial if test results simply "establish by a preponderance of the evidence that a new trial would result in an acquittal." The key language here is "result in acquittal." It means a test result would not even have to indicate actual innocence; it need only conflict with other evidence of guilt so as to undermine the jury's ability to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Prisoners could win new trials - and go free - even if, despite the negative DNA match, other evidence still shows the prisoner very likely committed the crime. Current law (Federal Rule 33) uses the liberal "result in acquittal" standard to allow new trials based on new evidence, but only within three years of trial. It usually is not difficult to retry a case within three years. But for older cases, Congress should insist on a showing of actual innocence before ordering an often-impossible new trial.
There are other problems with the IPA titles in the various congressional
versions of the President's DNA initiative. These titles would vastly expand
DNA testing by authorizing tests even for prisoners who pleaded guilty.
According to the Department of Justice, 90% of federal prisoners pleaded
guilty. Extending free tests to these prisoners literally expands the pool
of potential test seekers by an order of magnitude. A guilty plea also
means that there is no trial record, which makes it much more difficult
to assess the potential relevance of DNA-test evidence.
These other bills also impose broad and potentially costly new evidence-retention requirements on the states - requirements that appear to require states to preserve all potential DNA evidence in all cases, indefinitely. And these bills also would give the newly created capital-counsel "entities" an unwarranted degree of control over defense attorneys' budgets. States traditionally have charged courts and other responsible agencies with monitoring budgets for capital representation. Prosecutors do not have unlimited budgets. There is no reason to allow the capital-counsel entity to draw a blank check on state treasuries.
There are other problems with the IPA titles of the competing bills. Suffice to say that these titles are unrelated to the President's DNA initiative and both the Department of Justice and the NDAA oppose adding them to the President's bill. We should not weigh down the President's DNA initiative with the IPA. For this reason, my colleagues and I today introduce the President's proposal - important, consensus legislation that should be enacted by congress without delay.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill, the following letter, and the following article all be printed in the RECORD.