Reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act critical to processing backlog of untested rape kits in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, TN, September 19, 2014 – – Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) said today congressional reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act will be of tremendous help to accurately assess and reduce the backlog of untested DNA evidence from open rape cases in Tennessee. The U.S. Senate passed the bill yesterday, which had already received approval in the House of Representatives, sending it to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

“The funds provided through the Debbie Smith Act are essential in providing state and local governments with the resources to work through the backlog of evidence in untested rape kits,” said Senator Norris, who is Chairman of the Council of State Governments. “That is the first step in getting the perpetrators off the street so that justice can be served for the victims and survivors. I appreciate our congressional leaders for supporting this legislation which will greatly help in our efforts to identify and prosecute offenders in Tennessee.”

Norris sponsored legislation this year requiring all law enforcement agencies or departments charged with the maintenance, storage, and preservation of sexual assault kits to generate a report to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation based on that inventory by July 1, 2014. The reporting of untested kits is required under the new federal act.

“With this report, we are already positioned to move forward in our application for funds after the bill is signed by the President,” added Norris. “DNA evidence has revolutionized the way we both apprehend and prosecute rape cases. Courts at all levels have recognized the validity of DNA tests in identifying suspects and establishing guilt.”

The TBI report showed 44 police agencies had a combined total of 9,062 untested rape kits statewide. The highest number was 6,942 by the Memphis Police Department, followed by 394 untested kits at the Knoxville Police Department, 249 at the Jackson Police Department, 200 at the Metro Nashville Police Department, 179 at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, 126 at the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, 104 at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and 99 at the Chattanooga Police Department.

Norris also passed major legislation this year to repeal the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general has been notified within three years of the offense. The new law pertains to acts committed on or after July 1, 2014 or offenses committed prior to that date, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired.

“We made significant progress this year in working to identify rapists and bring them to justice, as well as providing the tools for law enforcement to prosecute cold cases. This should help in our efforts to provide justice for the victims of this heinous crime,” he concluded.

Approximately 90,000 women are raped every year in the United States, with only 25 percent of these attacks resulting in arrests.

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