DNA evidence allows police and prosecutors to solve and successfully prosecute “cold cases” that have been unsolved for decades. Just this past April, DNA samples were used to identify a suspect believed to be the Golden State Killer responsible for a series of rapes and murders that were unsolved for nearly four decades. As a result, Joseph James DeAngelo is charged with 12 murders throughout California and is believed to be responsible for some 50 rapes and numerous burglaries. When he is brought to court, DNA will be among the most significant evidence to link him to the crimes.
Nationally, DNA matches through the CODIS have aided in the investigation of more than 400,000 cases. DNA evidence has proven effective, not only to identify and prosecute those responsible for crimes but to clear the innocent. Over 450 individuals who were wrongfully convicted of crimes have been exonerated thanks to this powerful technology.
Since 2004, Congress has spent nearly $2 billion on DNA, primarily to enhance crime lab capacity and offender databases. These federal expenditures dramatically aided law enforcement’s ability to match crime scene biological evidence to the DNA of known offenders. But to realize the full potential of DNA to achieve justice, additional federal funding must be devoted to the investigation and prosecution that follows any DNA match. Unfortunately, to date, insufficient federal dollars have been appropriated for this purpose.
While a DNA match is obviously an important step in bringing the perpetrator to justice, much work is needed to transform “cold-case” matches into trial-ready prosecutions. District attorneys and their investigators must locate witnesses, conduct interviews, test additional evidence, develop internal DNA expertise, and prepare expert testimony for trial. In doing so, they face immense challenges because the crime often occurred decades earlier, making it difficult to locate witnesses and physical evidence. These cases also strain the resources of prosecutors who must continue to handle crimes that occur and require immediate attention.
For all these reasons, federal funding is essential to provide prosecutors with the resources needed to successfully investigate and prosecute “cold cases.” The Justice Served Act (H.R. 4854, S. 2345) would address this need by authorizing what could equate to roughly $6 million to $8 million annually for state and local prosecutors to achieve the full potential of DNA and deliver long-overdue justice to victims.
The bill was developed by the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) and introduced by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) in the House and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in the Senate. The measure passed the House by a nearly unanimous vote of 377-1. Action by the Senate will make this funding a reality and help ensure that murderers and other dangerous criminals are brought to justice. I respectfully urge the Senate to move the Justice Served Act expeditiously and provide much needed funding to aid state and local prosecutors in their mission to seek the truth and bring justice to victims of crime.