The first two criminal indictments, formal statements charging a defendant with a crime, have been filed in Cuyahoga County, Ohio as a result of Attorney General Mike DeWine’s initiative to clear the state’s rape kit backlog, with many more expected to follow. As we shared recently, 53 law enforcement agencies from across Ohio have submitted 2,465 backlogged rape kits, more than 1,000 of which came from Cleveland. From approximately 600 kits tested so far, 90 DNA hits have resulted.
Unfortunately, a grand jury returned the first indictment one day after the 20-year statute of limitations had expired, which means the prosecution will not move forward. In that case, a rape kit from 1993 matched to Charles Steele, whose DNA profile was entered into the state’s database as a result of his incarceration for another rape case in Hamilton County. Detectives submitted the 1993 kit in July 2011 and did not receive the results until 17 months later. After receiving the results on December 25 of last year, they delayed in handing the case over to prosecutors to present to a grand jury. Two days after Steele was indicted, his DNA matched to yet another attack on a Cleveland woman that occurred eight months More >
There has been a flurry of reports in the news recently about the steps several cities across the country have taken to eliminate their rape kit backlogs. These cities are in varying stages of analyzing their untested kits and re-engaging the survivors whose kits were part of the backlog. Two of the cities are located in states—Illinois and Texas—that have passed legislation requiring the testing of all rape kits booked into evidence. The others are located in Ohio, where the Attorney General has encouraged law enforcement agencies to test all kits.
Here are a few highlights of their progress:Robbins, Illinois
CBS Chicago reports that police in Robbins, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, recently discovered 51 rape kits that had never been sent for testing. Some of the kits dated as far back as 1986. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is now working to process this backlog because Robbins lacks the resources to do so.
According to the Robbins Police Department, they did not test the kits because the victims either recanted or declined to press charges. This is difficult to verify, however, because a flood in the basement of the Department destroyed the statements that would normally accompany the kits. That being the More >
The Colorado House Judiciary Committee has taken a step toward eliminating the state’s rape kit backlog. The Committee unanimously passed a bill, HB 1020, that would require each law enforcement agency to inventory—within 60 days—and send for testing—within 90 days—the untested kits in its storage facilities.
If passed by the rest of the Colorado General Assembly, the law would also mandate that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation propose a plan for analyzing all submitted rape kits by June 30, 2014. Going forward, the law would require rape kits to be submitted for testing within 21 days of receipt by a law enforcement agency.
State Rep. Frank McNulty introduced the bill in response to an ABC CALL7 investigative report uncovering hundreds of untested rape kits in the greater Denver area. In a guest commentary for the Colorado Observer, Rep. McNulty explained his concern after seeing the report:
It takes very real courage to come forward to report a sexual assault and even greater courage to go through the trauma of evidence being collected. These women subjected themselves to the trauma of evidence collection so that their attacker would be brought to justice and so that other women wouldn’t become victims of their attacker. If rape kits are More >
The Quad-City Times recently reported that there are 671 untested rape kits sitting in storage at the police department in Davenport, Iowa; some have been there since the 1990s. Of the 47 rape kits collected in Davenport in 2012, police sent only 8 kits to the crime lab. Of the 64 kits collected in 2011, only 12 went to the lab for testing.
When asked about the untested kits, Davenport Police Chief Frank Donchez explained, “There are rape kits there that nothing can be done with. If we don’t know the victim, the suspect or the location of the incident, how can we conduct an investigation?”
After undergoing a rape kit examination, which can take between four and six hours, some victims of sexual assault decide not to report the assault to the police. In these instances, the rape kit is sometimes referred to as an “anonymous” or “Jane Doe” kit. To protect the victim’s privacy, the rape kit does not reveal any identifying information. Victims are given a code number they can use to identify themselves if they later choose to report the assault.
How long a police department must store an anonymous kit varies by state and jurisdiction. Under Iowa law, police More >
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) estimates there are 20,000 untested rape kits sitting in police storage facilities across the state, according to a January, 3, 2013 article in The New York Times.
In 2011, the Texas state legislature passed a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to count the untested kits in their evidence rooms and report their numbers to DPS. Despite an October 2011 deadline, few agencies complied with the reporting requirement.
To date, approximately 130 of more than 2,600 police agencies have submitted their backlog numbers, including many of the biggest agencies. Among the reporting agencies, there are 15,900 untested rape kits. Based on that number, DPS estimates there to be roughly 20,000 untested kits statewide.
To clear a backlog of that size, DPS believes it will cost between $7 million and $11 million. When the state legislature meets for its 2013 session, it will discuss how to pay for testing. State officials are hopeful that the U.S. Congress will pass the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act, which would create a national registry for rape kit evidence and amend current law to require a greater percentage of Debbie Smith Act grant funds be spent directly on analyzing untested DNA evidence. The More >