HomeNewsJusticeCongressman Carter’s “Justice Served Act” Signed into Law

Congressman Carter’s “Justice Served Act” Signed into Law

On October 11, Congressman John Carter, Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick, Sheriff’s Sgt. Gary Haston and Allison Clayton, Texas Innocence Project, were together in the Congressman’s former “office” at the 277th District Court to announce the signing of Carter’s Justice Served Act and its potential impact on local cold cases. President Trump signed the bill October 9.

The legislation provides funding to local prosecutors for cold cases where suspects are identified through new DNA evidence. The bill will not only help in the prosecution of cold cases and solving some that would be otherwise impossible to close, it will help give victims and their families justice, and ensure that the right people are held accountable.

Rather than adding funds, the bill adapts current grant programs, like the Debbie Smith Act, to meet evolving needs of the Criminal Justice System.

Debbie Smith was attacked and sexually assaulted in 1989, but it took six years and DNA evidence to convict her attacker. He was sentenced to 161 years.

When Congressman Carter introduced the bill he explained, “Previously, criminals were able to hide behind the DNA backlog, as evidence sat on a shelf untested. Now that the backlog has been addressed, prosecutors will have the resources they need to move forward,  putting criminals behind bars and bringing about justice for victims of heinous crimes.”

Congressman Carter told the assembled press last week, “The use of DNA evidence to solve crimes first came to the scene in 1986. Since that time, it has become one of the most reliable tools used to identify and prosecute criminals. When I first started working with DNA cases in the 90s, it took weeks and sometimes months to get results from a single lab in Minnesota. Now we can get results nearly instantly.”

Carter says files for aggravated sexual assaults were stacking up; reams of rape kits that had not been tested, and it became an issue that was important to Congress so they put together the Debbie Smith Act, the funds from which were was used to get DNA testing on rape kits across the country; “No longer do prosecutors have to say ‘if only we had the money to do this.'”

The Justice Served Act will provide $391 million across the state, which represents 5-7% of the funding in the Debbie Smith Act.

County officials also expressed optimism that this aid may help advance multiple cold cases, including that of Rachel Cooke, who vanished near her home in 2002.

District Attorney Dick said, “Obviously, our Rachel Cooke case is one we’re hoping yields some evidence, and yields some information, so any of these funds that have now been turned on will hopefully help in all these investigations.”

For the last decade, Congress has put $100 million a year into reducing the DNA evidence backlog. Now that crime laboratory capacity has expanded and new suspects are identified, Congress and the states are shifting funding to prosecute and put criminals behind bars. There is a national DNA database that includes samples from all those incarcerated for felony crimes at the time of its inception, and everyone convicted since.

“As a former judge,” Carter says, “I understand that evidence is only useful if our justice system has the funding needed to pursue charges and subsequently prosecute dangerous criminals. We must ensure our law enforcement entities and prosecutors have the funding they need to clean up our streets and put evil behind bars. The Justice Served Act will help make that job a little easier.”

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