WASHINGTON, DC – The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to advance the bipartisan Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), to give more rights to the families of homicide victims in federal cases.
The committee’s vote sends the bill to the House Floor for consideration.
“I’m glad my fellow Judiciary Committee members agreed that we can and must do better for the families of homicide victims,” Swalwell said. “Advancing this bill means advancing justice and accountability so that grieving families have a better chance of getting the closure and healing they deserve.”
“Thirty years ago this week, on December 6, 1991, a quadruple murder at a yogurt shop in Austin, Texas, claimed the lives of four teenage girls,” said Rep. McCaul. “To this day we do not know who is responsible. As a father of five and a former federal prosecutor, it seems unimaginable to go without an answer as to why a loved one was taken so suddenly. Though nothing can bring victims of homicide back, this legislation will give families more rights to request a federal review of a cold case. We are one step closer to justice with the mark-up of this bill.”
Swalwell and McCaul are both former prosecutors: Swalwell was an Alameda County, CA deputy district attorney, while McCaul was a federal prosecutor and a Texas deputy attorney general.
The National District Attorneys’ Association recently endorsed the bill.
“Prosecutors are responsible for protecting the communities they serve, seeking justice for victims of crime and ensuring the Constitutional rights of all individuals are protected. To that end, we must not forget the cold cases where justice has been delayed for families and loved ones,” said Nelson Bunn, Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association. “Fortunately, Congressmen Eric Swalwell and Michael McCaul have introduced the Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act, which will expand the rights of families of homicide victims and provide resources to ensure the Federal government does not turn justice delayed into justice denied for victims across the country.”
Using FBI data, the Murder Accountability Project calculated that the percentage of homicides for which someone is criminally charged has steadily declined from over 90 percent in 1965 to under 65 percent in 2018 – resulting in more than 250,000 Americans becoming victims of homicides for which no one has been charged since 1980.
The Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act would give relatives of homicide victims the right to have their loved one’s federal case file reviewed after the case has gone cold for three years. If the federal investigator feels it would lead to probative leads, a full reinvestigation would then occur. The bill also would require the federal government to notify family members and similarly situated people of their rights, and to provide them with updates on any cold case review undertaken. It would also collect data on the problems with the cold cases.
A new set of eyes can discover previously overlooked facts, and tests that were not yet available when the homicide was first investigated can unearth new information.
“I hope this bill will serve as a model for state, local, and tribal governments to adopt so that all families of victims can seek justice for their loved ones and themselves,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said during Wednesday’s markup.
Swalwell and McCaul drafted the Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act last year with the help of former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner and Katharine Manning, a former U.S. Department of Justice senior attorney advisor who specializes in victims’ rights and services.
Other organizations supporting the bill include Homicide Family Advocates, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Murder Accountability Project, Parents of Murdered Children, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and Ryan Backmann, survivor and founder of Project: Cold Case.
Swalwell spoke about his bill during the markup:
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