So very happy and honored to have been on the committee in the beginning to create this bill.
On August 3, 2022 H.R. 3359, the “Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act of 2021,” which establishes a framework for immediate family members of a victim of murder to request a review of case files in a Federal cold case murder, was signed into law by the President.
This bill will give the families of homicide victims in federal cases the right to request a review of the case if the murder was committed more than three years ago, investigative leads have been exhausted, and no likely suspect has been identified.
The Homicide Victim’s Families Rights Act (HR 3359), would also require the federal government to notify family members of their rights and provide them with updates on any cold case review that is undertaken.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle, agreed that they can and must do better for the families of homicide victims seeking justice for their loved ones. This bill is a good start.
Thank you to Representatives Swalwell and McCaul, and Senators Cornyn, Durbin, Grassley, Coons, Cotton, Ossoff, Blackburn, Whitehouse, and Kennedy.
What does the bill say?
To provide for a system for reviewing the case files of cold case murders at the instance of certain persons, and for other purposes.
This Act may be cited as the
Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act of 2021.
The head of an agency shall review the case file regarding a cold case murder upon written application by one designated person to determine if a full reinvestigation would result in either the identification of probative investigative leads or a likely perpetrator.
The review under subsection (a) shall include—
A review required under subsection (a) shall not be conducted by a person who previously investigated the murder at issue.
The agency shall provide in writing to the applicant as soon as reasonably possible—
Only one case review shall be undertaken at any one time with respect to the same cold case murder victim.
Not later than 6 months after the receipt of the written application submitted pursuant to subsection (a), the agency shall conclude its case file review and reach a conclusion about whether or not a full reinvestigation under section 4 is warranted.
The agency may extend the time limit under subsection (g) once for a period of time not to exceed 6 months if the agency makes a finding that the number of case files to be reviewed make it impracticable to comply with such limit without unreasonably taking resources from other law enforcement activities.
For cases for which the time limit in subsection (g) is extended, the agency shall provide notice and an explanation of its reasoning to one designated person who filed the written application pursuant to this section.
Each agency shall develop a written application to be used for designated persons to request a case file review under section 2.
The agency shall conduct a full reinvestigation of the cold case murder at issue if the review of the case file required by section 2 concludes that a full reinvestigation of such cold case murder would result in probative investigative leads.
A full reinvestigation shall include analyzing all evidence regarding the cold case murder at issue for the purpose of developing probative investigative leads or a likely perpetrator.
A reinvestigation required under subsection (a) shall not be conducted by a person who previously investigated the murder at issue.
Only one full reinvestigation shall be undertaken at any one time with respect to the same cold case murder victim.
The agency shall consult with the designated person who filed the written application pursuant to section 2 and provide him or her with periodic updates during the case file review and full reinvestigation.
The agency shall meet with the designated person and discuss the evidence to explain to the designated person who filed the written application pursuant to section 2 its decision whether or not to engage in the full reinvestigation provided for under section 4 at the conclusion of the case file review.
If a review under subsection (a) case file regarding a cold case murder is conducted and a conclusion is reached not to conduct a full reinvestigation, no additional case file review shall be required to be undertaken under this Act with respect to that cold case murder for a period of five years, unless there is newly discovered, materially significant evidence. An agency may continue an investigation absent a designated person’s application.
If a full reinvestigation of a cold case murder is completed and a suspect is not identified at its conclusion, no additional case file review or full reinvestigation shall be undertaken with regard to that cold case murder for a period of five years beginning on the date of the conclusion of the reinvestigation, unless there is newly discovered, materially significant evidence.
Beginning on the date that is three years after the date of enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter, the Director of the National Institute of Justice shall publish statistics on the number of cold case murders.
The statistics published pursuant to subsection (a) shall, at a minimum, be disaggregated by the circumstances of the cold case murder, including the classification of the offense, and by agency.
Not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act, the head of each agency shall promulgate regulations to enforce the right of a designated person to request a review under this Act and to ensure compliance by the agency with the obligations described in this Act.
The regulations promulgated under subsection (a) shall—
Nothing in this Act shall require an agency to provide information that would endanger the safety of any person, unreasonably impede an ongoing investigation, violate a court order, or violate legal obligations regarding privacy.
In the case that more than one agency conducted the initial investigation of a cold case murder, each agency shall coordinate their case file review or full reinvestigation such that there is only one joint case file review or full reinvestigation occurring at a time in compliance with section 2(f) or 4(d), as applicable.
This Act applies in the case of any cold case murder occurring on or after January 1, 1970.
In this Act:
Each agency shall submit an annual report to the Committees on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and of the Senate describing actions taken and results achieved under this Act during the previous year.
The report described in subsection (a) shall include—
This is not the end of the story – we hold out great hope that the scope of this law will expand in the future to include all cold case homicides or to be a guideline for states to adopt similar legislation.