McCaul, Swalwell Reintroduce Bill to Help Families Pursue Justice on Behalf of Homicide Victims

On Wednesday, Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and I reintroduced the bipartisan Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act to give more rights to the families of homicide victims in federal cases.

Swalwell and I are both former prosecutors: I was a federal prosecutor and a Texas deputy attorney general, and Swalwell, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, was an Alameda County (Calif.) deputy district attorney.

Almost 30 years have passed since the unspeakable and brutal murders of four teenage girls at a local yogurt shop in Austin. 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. That is why this legislation is so important – to give these Austin families – and others like them – the tools to work with law enforcement to pursue justice on behalf of their loved one.

“As a former prosecutor, I saw first-hand the unimaginable tragedy of losing a loved one to homicide,” Swalwell said. “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.” 

The Murder Accountability Project (MAP) calculated, using FBI data, that the percentage of homicides for which someone is charged as being responsible has steadily declined from over 90 percent in 1965 to under 65 percent in 2018. This has resulted in over 250,000 Americans becoming victims of homicides for which no one has been charged since 1980, according to MAP. We can and must do better for the families of the victims of homicides.

The Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act would give relatives of homicide victims under federal law the right to have their loved one’s case file reviewed once the case has gone cold after three years. If the federal investigator feels it would lead to probative leads, a full reinvestigation would then occur. The bill would also require the federal government to notify family members and similarly situated people of their rights and provide them with updates on any cold case review. It would also collect data on the problems with the cold cases. 

A new set of eyes can discover overlooked facts or new signs. Using tests previously not available when the homicide was first investigated can lead to further information that families deserve. The Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act can also serve as a model for states and localities to adopt so all victims’ families can have more hope that perpetrators will be caught, regardless of the governmental level prosecuting the case.

Swalwell and I 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.

This bill is supported by the 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.


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