- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2005

On April 22, 2001, someone beat, raped, choked and finally drowned 18-year-old Crystal Hamilton. For years, her killer freely walked the streets. It wasn’t until his semen identified him through the FBI’s national matching system, called CODIS, that he was taken into custody and put on trial.

On April 11, nearly four years after Crystal Hamilton’s brutal murder, a jury convicted a previously convicted sex offender for killing her. Douglas Dworak apparently murdered Crystal so she could not identify him and send him back to prison. But she didn’t need to identify him. His DNA did that.

DNA is the newest revolution in solving crimes, prosecuting the guilty and clearing the innocent. For more than 100 years, criminologists relied on fingerprints as the primary tool to conclusively identify suspects. Fingerprints, however, often are not found at a crime scene, or are too smudged to be useful. DNA, by not being confined to one portion of the body, is more prevalent. That leads to more potential arrests and convictions.

Congress and the president have acted to facilitate arrests by matching DNA left at crime scenes with the perpetrators. Last year, Congress passed and the president signed into law the Justice for All Act, which provides $750 million and directs the federal government to process and enter DNA samples into CODIS. Separately, the president began a $1 billion, five-year program to process and enter DNA into state and national databases. As DNA samples are matched with cold cases, the workload for local prosecutors is expected to rise dramatically.

That’s already the case in California, where voters approved a proposition last November requiring immediate collection of convicted felons’ DNA for a statewide crime-solving database.

According to the California District Attorney’s Association, the database identifies suspects in an average of three previously cold cases a day. So far, 1,200 suspects have been identified in previously unsolved cases in the state. It is expected to lead to 4,000 new cases a year. That’s still the tip of the iceberg.

California authorities have DNA on file for assailants in about 20,000 unsolved sexual assault cases and 52,000 unsolved murders. Multiply that nationwide, and we have a huge number of rapists and murderers to identify and prosecute.

Congress has acted to identify the killers and rapists and now must help prosecutors shoulder the burden of bringing them to justice. Every day that passes is another day of justice denied to victims and their families.

The vehicle to bring these cases to court and justice to the victims and their families is the Grants for DNA Backlog Prosecutions Act, which I introduced last month. The bill would provide $100 million a year for five years to help prosecutors bring cold hit cases to court.

That $500 million is a small price to pay to put the worst of America’s criminals behind bars. There are, at the very least, hundreds of thousands of Crystal Hamiltons in the United States for whom justice has not yet been served.

If government’s primary role is to protect its citizens, as I believe it is, we have a duty to ensure swift prosecution as the perpetrators are identified.

Elton Gallegly, California Republican, is a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee.

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