Legislation now awaits President’s signature
Dec 06 2016
WASHINGTON –U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today applauded a unanimous Senate vote to reauthorize Justice Department programs to support cutting-edge DNA testing and forensic technology. The Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016, which was cosponsored by Sen. Warner and which originally passed the Senate last June, has been approved by the House of Representatives and now is headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The Act reauthorizes programs which have not been updated or strengthened in twelve years, since passage of the original legislation in 2004. There have been dramatic changes in forensic technology and DNA testing practices since that time.
“Virginia’s DNA program has been a model for the rest of the country, showing how advances in forensic technology can have profound impacts in delivering justice to those wrongfully convicted and to victims of unsolved crimes,” said Sen. Warner. “In the 21st century, the responsible use of the latest technological advances should not only be expected -- it should be required. I am proud to see Congress embrace this same principle by authorizing support programs that invest in the modernization of the criminal justice system.”
The Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016 focuses on ensuring our criminal justice system is fair and effective. It provides resources for public forensic laboratories, which are critical to ensuring the efficient and accurate testing of evidence, and reducing the rape kit backlog. It strengthens crime victims’ rights and programs by increasing restitution for crime victims, requiring that interpreters be available to all federal crime victims who wish to participate in a court proceeding, and reauthorizing important programs used to notify crime victims of their rights and provide them with legal assistance.
This legislation reauthorizes programs that directly benefit Virginia’s Department of Forensic Science by providing funding for the state’s DNA testing centers to develop strong programs and acquire necessary testing equipment. The bill also protects the innocent by expanding access to exculpatory DNA testing for the wrongfully convicted. Since 1989, there have been 347 post-conviction exonerations in the United States as a result of DNA testing. These people served an average of 14 years in prison before their exoneration and release. The Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016 eliminates barriers to post-conviction DNA testing if untested evidence is available and potentially exculpatory for individuals expressing claims of innocence.
Since the establishment in 1989 of one of the first DNA Data Banks in the United States in Virginia, the Commonwealth has continued to lead the nation in the use of cutting edge DNA technology to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. Sen. Warner has promoted advances in DNA testing since his time as Governor of Virginia, becoming the first Governor to order posthumous DNA testing in a capital case. In 2005, then-Gov. Warner ordered a large scale review and testing of approximately 850 criminal cases following the exoneration of five Virginia men by DNA testing. The post-conviction DNA testing program spearheaded by Sen. Warner as Governor has exonerated eleven individuals and enabled additional testing in hundreds of cases, which have resulted in the match of 10,000 cold case hits since Sen. Warner helped modernize the system.