Reauthorized law reducing rape kit backlog
Congress passed the Debbie Smith Act of 2019, reauthorizing it from 2004. It provides resources to state and local law enforcement agencies to end the backlog of untested DNA evidence.
"One thing you don't want to have, that we don't want to have anymore, is a situation where you think there's surety or clarity on a verdict and then years later, DNA evidence collected could raise doubt about the conviction, that kind of thing, so we do all that up front now," Slack said.
DNA testing takes a long time which is why there's a backlog. Now, through a speedy trial motion., laws require a trial to be ready in 90 days.
"We have recently seen turn around times as quick as 30 days," Lubbock County Sheriff's Office Captain Joseph Gilliam said.
"In general that's a fast turn around for biological evidence," Slack said.
DNA evidence is often crucial in solving violent crimes, and even exonerating people.
"Well you always want to make sure you get the right person and DNA is very conclusive and it means that we don't arrest anyone that doesn't need to be arrested and that also means that we don't convict anyone that doesn't need to be convicted," Gilliam said.
Often, this backlog of DNA evidence may provide the clue that's been missing.
"A case that is maybe not sent for prosecution or if there hasn't been probable cause developed to initiate an arrest or prosecution, that's where I think it could make a difference," Slack said.
It can also bring closure for the family or the victim.
"Making sure that those people know that we're on the right trail, we're on the right track and someone is going to answer for whatever crime that happens to be," Gilliam said.
Since it was first authorized, the Debbie Smith Act has helped Texas reduce its rape kit backlog by 90 percent.
"DPS personnel, prosecutors, police, are already doing as much as possible to prioritize and expedite these things in the interest of public safety and clarity in the criminal justice system, but it helps to codify that, to make it statutory," Slack said.
While Lubbock County doesn't have a backlog, every new sample that is added into the combined DNA Index System strengthens the database and increases the chance of convicting perpetrators of past, current, and future crimes.