Federal legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Livermore) designed to give more rights to the families of victims in homicide cases that have gone cold for over three years passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming support, 406-20, in voting last week.
House Resolution 3359, introduced by Swalwell and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and dubbed "The Homicide Victims' Families Rights Act 2021," now heads to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
"The legislation plainly says -- and will plainly make so -- that the sun will never set on justice for victims of homicides and their families seeking closure," Swalwell said in his introductory speech to the House.
Originally proposed in September 2020, the bill advocates for victim families and aims to offer them justice and closure.
"I'm glad my colleagues in the House, on both sides of the aisle, agreed that we can and must do better for the families of homicide victims," Swalwell said after the March 30 vote. "Advancing this bill means advancing justice and accountability so that grieving families have a better chance of getting the closure and healing they deserve."
The bill would also provide for relatives of victims under federal law to be given the right to have their loved one's case file reviewed by a federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over their case.
"My legislation requires a complete re-examination of the file and accompanying evidence, new or renewed interviews with potential subjects and witnesses and other methods to identify possible missteps," Swalwell said.
Additionally, the bill requires the government to notify the victim's families of their rights, keep them updated along with data collection in such cases. Referring to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, Swalwell said an estimated 250,000 homicides cases are unsolved in the country and that number rises every year.
"The number of unsolved homicides that eventually attained cold case status increases each year by an average of 6,000," Swalwell said. "That's why I'm urging my friends on both sides of the aisle to swiftly pass HR 3359 and to join our colleagues in the judiciary committee who unanimously supported the passage of this legislation."
As former prosecutors, both representatives said they have witnessed firsthand the peril of the victim families. Swalwell was an Alameda County deputy district attorney while McCaul was a federal prosecutor and a Texas deputy attorney general.
"As a former federal prosecutor, I have seen the devastation unsolved crimes can have on victims' families, too often, they are left to grieve and never get the answers they deserve," McCaul said. "I am proud to co-sponsor this bill and expand the rights of the families of homicide victims so they can have closure and healing."
Former federal prosecutors Glenn Kirschner and Katharine Manning, former U.S. Department of Justice senior attorney advisers who specialize in victims' rights and services, helped during the process of drafting the bill.
"As a career prosecutor, I've worked with hundreds of families who have lost a loved one to violent crime," Kirschner said. "This bill gives those families not just a voice but a legal right to request a review or full reinvestigation of the homicide of their loved one. Victims and their families deserve precisely the kind of right this bill delivers."
If approved by the Senate and ultimately signed into law by President Joe Biden, the bill will apply to the cases of any homicide that occurred on or after January 1, 1970.