At least 20 states are pursuing reforms to the inconsistent ways rape kits are handled by law enforcement agencies after a USA TODAY NETWORK investigation last year revealed tens of thousands of rape evidence kits went untested nationwide.
Legislatures have been flooded with a total of about 50 different bills in recent months — most introduced since the beginning of this year as lawmakers returned to statehouses for 2016 sessions — dealing with various aspects of how rape kits are handled by the criminal justice system. The proposals range including new funding for testing rape kits, audits of long-stored evidence and reducing the discretion police departments or officers have in deciding whether to submit rape evidence for testing by standardizing requirements, including setting time limits for submission to crime labs.
Meanwhile, governors, attorneys general and top state law enforcement officials in several states also have taken actions independent of legislatures to reduce funding and other procedural obstacles to local police submitting sexual assault evidence for testing.
Testing rape kits yields valuable DNA evidence that has been proven to help identify suspects, bolster prosecutions and in some cases exonerate the wrongly accused. But, a USA TODAY NETWORK investigation published in July identified more than 70,000 untested sexual assault kits in the custody of more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies in communities large and small, pointing to a national accumulation of untested kits that likely reaches well into the hundreds of thousands across the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies.
Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, a New York City-based advocacy group, said state lawmakers are reacting to intensifying attention by journalists, advocates and some federal government leaders, as well as mounting evidence that testing all of the evidence kits helps solve crimes.
“It’s just this moment in time where all these factors are coming together and pushing awareness and creating this movement for reform,” she said.
SOURCE: Steve Reilly