House Passes 'Justice for All' DNA Act

Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has championed the Innocence Protection Act for the past several years, is putting a good face on today's House passage of Rep. Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) (mostly) victims' rights bill, H.R. 5107, the "Justice for All Act."

While this bill is far from what was hoped for and what is needed from an innocence perspective, it's better than no bill at all. I have nothing but praise for Senator Leahy and Congressmen Bill Delahunt and Ray La Hood who fought the Administration long and hard to get as much as they could for those who wrongfully languish in our nations' prisons and on death row. But for their tenacity and dedication, there would be no relief in sight.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where, believe it or not, the White House, Ashcroft, and two Republican Senators (Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl) remain opposed to it. Leahy and Sensenbrenner today called upon them to get out of the way of the bill's passage.

Here's the official spin, followed by the reality:

The Justice For All Act of 2004 (HR 5107...includes many provisions from a victims’ rights bill that was already passed by the full Senate and incorporates the Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act (H.R. 3214/S. 1700). This omnibus legislation enhances the rights and protections for all persons involved in the criminal justice system through two different, but complementary, mechanisms: (1) a new set of statutory victims' rights that are both enforceable in a court of law and supported by fully-funded victims' assistance programs; and (2) a comprehensive DNA bill that seeks to ensure that the true offender is caught and convicted for the crime.

The Justice for All Act was introduced by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA). The bill, which was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee on September 22, 2004, passed on the House floor in a 393-14 vote on October 6, 2004. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

Now the reality. Here's how the DNA money is divided up:

  • $755 million goes to test the backlog of over 300,000 rape kits and other crime scene evidence awaiting analysis in our nation's crime labs;
  • 500 million goes to ...programs to improve the capacity of crime labs to conduct DNA analysis, reduce non-DNA backlogs, train examiners, support sexual assault forensic examiner programs, and promote the use of DNA to identify missing persons;
  • 25 million over five years is authorized to help states pay the costs of post-conviction DNA testing;

As for improving the quality of death penalty representation, the bill authorizes $ 100 75 million a year for five years to be split between states offering training programs to defenders and prosecutors, and providing assistance to families of murder victims. See Sections 421 to 423.

The bill provides an increase in maximum compensation to federal prisoners who were wrongfully convicted. The new rate is $50,000 per year in non-capital cases and $100,000 per year in capital cases.

As to those convicted in state court, here's what it says:

Section 432. Sense of Congress Regarding Compensation in State Death Penalty Cases
This section states that it is the sense of Congress that states should provide compensation to those persons who are wrongfully convicted.

You can read a section by section analysis of the bill here.

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