Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act will renew our commitment to support crime victims
Violent crime spares no one, especially the victims directly impacted. As policy and community leaders, 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. While the crime of the day may garner more immediate attention, we must not forget the cold cases where justice has been delayed for families and loved ones. Fortunately, two former prosecutors now serving in Congress have introduced the Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act of 2021, 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.
Specifically, Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) have crafted a comprehensive approach to ensure families of homicide victims whose cases have gone cold for three years or longer have a pathway to closure and justice. Prosecutors and law enforcement face challenges when a criminal investigation “runs cold”, no suspect is readily identifiable, and leads have been exhausted. Recent FBI data shows the percentage of homicides for which someone is charged has steadily declined from over 90 percent in 1965 to under 65 percent in 2018. Despite this concerning trend, improvements in technology, resources, and evidence-based techniques are better equipping prosecutors and law enforcement to identify new leads and witnesses to solve a crime and obtain the justice that victims’ families deserve.
The Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act of 2021 addresses these challenges and establishes a new process for law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate federal homicides, or homicides that occur across multiple jurisdictions. The review and reinvestigation process created in this legislation would significantly assist with the prosecution of perpetrators. Reviews are initiated through a written application by a victim’s family member or loved one, which is then reviewed by a federal law enforcement agency to determine if additional relevant leads in the case can be identified. If that lead is found, the federal investigators will review the case in its entirety — witnesses, evidence, and new information that can bring an offender to justice. The proposed bill does not stop there, taking the additional step requiring the National Institute of Justice to collect and publish statistics on the remaining cold cases in the federal system so that no victim or case is forgotten.
This legislation renews our collective commitment to support victims of crime and bring perpetrators to justice. Rep. Swalwell said it best, “As a former prosecutor, I saw first-hand the unimaginable tragedy of losing a loved one to homicide. Accountability is crucial to begin the healing process and to get justice, and when families miss out on that opportunity, it is a massive failure of our systems. We must do more to give those families—who have already been through so much—the closure they deserve.” That closure and justice for so many can be realized through swift consideration and passage of the Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act of 2021—it’s the least we can do to lift up the voices of victims of crime and their families.
Billy West is the president of the National District Attorneys Association. Nelson Bunn is executive director of the National District Attorneys Association.