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Norris: Haslam Budget Includes Funding for Additional TBI Forensic Scientists, Will ‘Expedite’ DNA Testing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 12, 2015:

NASHVILLE –  Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) recognized the Haslam Administration for funding three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in next year’s budget. The TBI processes forensic evidence at no charge to local law enforcement.

“These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime,” said Norris, who sponsors the budget in the Senate.

Norris enacted the law repealing the Tennessee statute of limitations in rape cases last year. He also led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged inventories of rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide.

“Progress is being made getting the old evidence tested, but this will help facilitate more timely testing of all DNA evidence,” said Norris.

The TBI has not received funding for new personnel for many years, even though the demand for more resources has increased dramatically.

According to City of Memphis officials, an initial backlog of 12,000 kits has now been reduced by nearly 5,000 kits since 2013 and has resulted in some 170 new investigations and 52 indictments including 19 rapists.

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Norris: Congressional Reauthorization of Debbie Smith ‘Critical’ to Processing Rape Kit Backlog

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 19, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN, September 19, 2014 – – Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) said today congressional reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act will be of tremendous help to accurately assess and reduce the backlog of untested DNA evidence from open rape cases in Tennessee. The U.S. Senate passed the bill yesterday, which had already received approval in the House of Representatives, sending it to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

“The funds provided through the Debbie Smith Act are essential in providing state and local governments with the resources to work through the backlog of evidence in untested rape kits,” said Senator Norris, who is Chairman of the Council of State Governments. “That is the first step in getting the perpetrators off the street so that justice can be served for the victims and survivors. I appreciate our congressional leaders for supporting this legislation which will greatly help in our efforts to identify and prosecute offenders in Tennessee.”

Norris sponsored legislation this year requiring all law enforcement agencies or departments charged with the maintenance, storage, and preservation of sexual assault kits to generate a report to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation based on that inventory by July 1, 2014. The reporting of untested kits is required under the new federal act.

“With this report, we are already positioned to move forward in our application for funds after the bill is signed by the President,” added Norris. “DNA evidence has revolutionized the way we both apprehend and prosecute rape cases. Courts at all levels have recognized the validity of DNA tests in identifying suspects and establishing guilt.”

The TBI report showed 44 police agencies had a combined total of 9,062 untested rape kits statewide. The highest number was 6,942 by the Memphis Police Department, followed by 394 untested kits at the Knoxville Police Department, 249 at the Jackson Police Department, 200 at the Metro Nashville Police Department, 179 at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, 126 at the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, 104 at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and 99 at the Chattanooga Police Department.

Norris also passed major legislation this year to repeal the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general has been notified within three years of the offense. The new law pertains to acts committed on or after July 1, 2014 or offenses committed prior to that date, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired.

“We made significant progress this year in working to identify rapists and bring them to justice, as well as providing the tools for law enforcement to prosecute cold cases. This should help in our efforts to provide justice for the victims of this heinous crime,” he concluded.

Approximately 90,000 women are raped every year in the United States, with only 25 percent of these attacks resulting in arrests.