Before joining Joyful Heart, Liz helped to found a non-profit organization focusing on prisoner reintegration. She has also served as a law clerk in the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. During law school, she held internships at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Koob & Magoolaghan and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. As a member of the Violence Against Women Committee of the Coalition for Women Prisoners, Liz advocates for the reform of criminal justice practices that are harmful to survivors of domestic violence.
Posts by Liz
Last week, the New York State Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill expanding the state’s DNA Databank. With bipartisan support in a 50 to 10 vote, the Senate adopted Governor Cuomo’s proposal to expand the Databank to include DNA samples from offenders convicted of all felony crimes and every penal law misdemeanor. Under the current law, the Databank captures offender DNA profiles for only 46% of crimes.
As Joyful Heart’s founder and president, Mariska Hargitay, said in a recently released video:
“This reform will bring healing and justice to survivors, hold violent offenders accountable, solve and prevent crimes, and avoid wrongful convictions. We know that individuals who commit serious crimes, like rape, have broken the law before. A single DNA sample often matches to multiple cold cases when entered into the Databank. We also know that many rapists have previous convictions for lower-level crimes. In fact, since New York began collecting DNA samples for some misdemeanor convictions in 2006, offender profiles from shoplifting and criminal trespass convictions alone have matched to 332 sexual assault cases. It is now time for New York to use DNA to its fullest potential.”
While the NYS Senate has taken a very significant step toward bringing healing and justice More >
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for reauthorization by Congress this year. Since its enactment 17 years ago, VAWA has saved countless lives, protected families, given a voice to survivors and provided invaluable training to the criminal justice community. VAWA is both a symbol and actualization of what it means to create healing and justice for survivors and their communities.
VAWA has fostered coordinated responses to violence against women by bringing together the criminal justice system, social services agencies and private nonprofits that work with survivors. It is responsible for the creation of legal assistance programs for survivors and greater protections for immigrants experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. If passed, the reauthorization will provide for enhanced criminal justice responses to sexual assault, greater prevention of domestic violence homicides and engagement of young people in stopping dating violence before it starts.
Please take action today to ensure that Congress reauthorizes VAWA. Write or call your senators and urge them to become co-sponsors of this vital piece of legislation. You can send the message we drafted or write a letter in your own words, expressing how critical VAWA is in the movement to end violence against women and girls. Calling More >
FBI Director Robert Mueller has announced that the agency will update its definition of rape, taking effect in the spring of 2012. The FBI currently defines rape as the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” As we have noted before, experts consider this definition to be too narrow, and it leads to the under-reporting of thousands of sexual assaults across the U.S. each year.
An FBI advisory board voted on December 6 to expand the definition of rape and sent the final decision on to Director Mueller. While testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller explained his support for updating the definition:
“That definition was in some ways unworkable, certainly not applicable—fully applicable—to the types of crimes that it should cover.”
The new definition states that rape is “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” In updating its terminology, the FBI removed the requirement that a rape involve force and expanded its reach beyond only female victims.
The updated definition of rape will allow local law enforcement agencies to report more sexual assaults to the federal More >
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced last Monday that a new unit at the state’s crime lab will handle backlogged rape kits. Four newly hired forensic scientists will staff the new unit and are expected to process 1,500 cases in their first year and double that amount in subsequent years.
An eleven-member commission that the Attorney General’s Office convened also recommended a new policy that law enforcement agencies submit any untested kits to a state lab regardless of whether a decision has been made to prosecute. Previously, there had been no policy on submitting rape kits. According to the policy, these developments will ensure the entry of offender DNA into police databases.
Attorney General DeWine expects the amount of kits sent to Ohio crime labs will increase from 50 percent to 90 percent. He said:
“We want to assure victims of sexual assault their cases will not be forgotten. We are determined to bring these rapists to justice.”
While the extent of Ohio’s rape kit backlog is unknown, the attorney general’s office reported it has received 2,000 backlogged cases just from Cuyahoga County so far, which includes Cleveland. Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) currently tests 1,000 rape kits per year and expects that number to More >
During a 2010 audit of the Detroit crime lab, which was shut down in 2008 due to testing irregularities, officials discovered approximately 11,000 untested rape kits in Detroit storage facilities. Following the discovery, a collaborative team of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, researchers and victim advocates came together to work toward eliminating the backlog.
With a grant from the federal government’s Office on Violence Against Women, the team created the “400 Project” to test 400 randomly selected kits from the backlog in order to determine the nature of the evidence and what kinds of cases are connected to the backlog. Among the 400 tested kits was a fourteen-year-old kit containing DNA evidence linking Antonio Jackson, now 38 years old, to the 1997 home invasion and rape of a woman at gunpoint. It is alleged that Jackson broke into the victim’s home at 3:50 a.m. on February 17, 1997, held her at gunpoint and raped her while her children slept in the same bed. He now faces charges of first degree criminal sexual conduct and home invasion and felony firearm charges.
The 400 Project is the first phase in a multi-phase approach to eliminating Detroit’s backlog. Detroit is one of two cities participating in a grant More >