Senate passes Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016

mark warnerThe Senate unanimously passed the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016, bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) to reauthorize programs within the Department of Justice to improve the accuracy and integrity of the criminal justice system, and ensure public confidence in our legal system by investing in cutting-edge DNA testing and forensic technology.

These programs have not been updated or strengthened in twelve years, since passage of legislation in 2004 , during which time dramatic changes have occurred in forensic technology and DNA testing practices. The act now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for approval.

“I have always been proud to champion Virginia’s DNA testing program, and I am pleased to support thisbipartisan legislation that will reauthorize and update these critical programs,” said Sen. Warner. “These funds will help us better support victims of crime, give law enforcement and prosecutors improved tools to put criminals behind bars, and provide additional investment in the long-term 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 ensure the efficient and accurate testing of evidence, and reduces 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.

The bill also protects the innocent by expanding access to exculpatory DNA testing for the wrongfully convicted. Since 1989, there have been 337 post-conviction exonerations in the United States as a result of DNA testing. Eighty-eight of those exonerated had pled guilty or confessed to the crime, resulting in sentences for crimes they did not commit. 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 of one of the first DNA Data Banks in the United States in Virginia in 1989, Virginia 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 Senator 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 Warner helped modernize the system. Notably, Thomas Haynesworth was exonerated in 2011 after spending 27 years in prison following a wrongful rape and robbery conviction.

If enacted, this legislation would reauthorize programs that would 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. In the Senate, Warner remains committed to protecting the rights of crime victims and wrongfully convicted individuals by expanding the role of technology in the criminal justice system.