March 20, 2009

News Release from Representative Allen Vaught and Senator John Carona

March 11, 2009

AUSTIN, TX - This week, Representative Allen Vaught and Senator John Carona took steps to give not only closure but justice to rape victims whose cold cases cannot be prosecuted because they happened at a time before the Legislature had removed enforcement of the statute of limitations in 1996.

Filed Monday, HB 2932 and SB 1558, as introduced, will require a new type of notation in pre-existing criminal histories for clear connections between DNA evidence from older, unsolved sexual assaults and current samples on file with the Department of Public Safety. Once an offender has been identified through DNA, their records must then include a summary indicating that a high likelihood from DNA evidence links the offender to a sexual offense, regardless of whether the offender will or has had charges brought against them.

"The Dallas Police Department has already taken the lead in using advanced science to solve cold cases while still maintaining due process of the law," said Representative Vaught. "I look forward to working with Senator Carona, as well as both Chambers, to create measures that will not only keep the public safe but ensure that offenders are properly identified through DNA. Most importantly though, this legislation will hopefully bring closure to those victims who could not receive it before the advancement of DNA technology."

With the notion that DNA has the potential to one day identify and solve cold cases, the Dallas Police Department has been one of only a few law enforcement agencies in the United States to preserve it from every case where it was discovered through rape kits that can date back to the early 1980's. With that evidence in place at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science lab located in Dallas, there are thousands of cases where the possibility of being solved now exists thanks to the progress that science has made to identify individuals through DNA.

The Dallas District Attorney's office, as well as the Dallas Police Department, have joined forces to help those victims who cannot seek justice through prosecution. Both have not only supported the legislation filed by Representative Vaught and Senator Carona, but they have also been a significant factor from the beginning in creating justice for victims who might otherwise feel forgotten. Of the cases already re-opened by the Dallas PD through their Sexual Assault Cold Case Program, 18 cases of sexual assault have been solved through DNA. The offenders matched are often serving time in a state corrections facility facing parole or are out in the community facing terms of probation or other forms of sentencing from a judge.

"The objective of this legislation is to hold an offender accountable, and therefore keep the public safe, while still being mindful of rights guaranteed by the Constitution," said Senator Carona. "I expect to see this bill evolve during the legislative process to ensure a consequence for these offenders who clearly committed a sexual assault that is both effective and fair for these unconscionable crimes."

If passed, Texas will be the first state to require such a sanction for those identified through DNA as rape suspects.