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Update: California Rape Kit Bill Passes in State Senate; Seeks to Create Pilot Program for Processing Kits
A bill aimed at improving the backlog of untested rape kits in California has just passed in the California State Senate with a vote of 37-2. It will now be voted on in the assembly before heading to the Governor’s desk.
We posted about the bill, AB 322, that was introduced in the California legislature in February, which seeks to process rape kits in California in a more timely manner. Since it has been introduced in the Assembly, AB 322, has gone through several significant changes. While the legislation would still call on all jurisdictions to report the number of kits in custody that are not tested, instead of mandating state-wide testing of every kit, it would require some jurisdictions–those with very low rates for solving sexual assault cases–to test all kits in a state-mandated two-and-a-half year pilot program.
In the ten counties which would be part of the pilot program, fewer than 12 percent of rape cases are solved, Monrovia Patch reported in July. AB 322 would require law enforcement to test every rape kit they receive in an effort to improve these rates.
Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, has been pushing AB 322 through the legislature.
Portantino has introduced several bills aimed at reforming More >
Last month we posted about the Cleveland Heights Police Department that failed to test a survivor’s rape kit from 2009. The evidence contained in her rape kit linked to Anthony Sowell, who is currently standing trial for the murder of 11 women in Ohio.
This recent case shines light on the rape kit backlog in Ohio and on the way law enforcement responds to sexual violence. From an article in The Plain Dealer:
Cleveland Heights police say they did not test sexual assault evidence that could have connected another woman’s rape to serial-killings suspect Anthony Sowell in 2009 because they didn’t know they had the evidence. … City officials said they discovered the rape kit among other stored evidence almost two years later when Cleveland police asked for it as a part of their investigation of Sowell [for other charges].
The Plain Dealer reported that the police department sent urine and blood samples to the lab along with the victim’s clothing, but did not submit the actual rape kit, which contained the DNA evidence from the perpetrator.
Only two states–Illinois and now Texas–and some cities–notably New York City and San Francisco–have implemented protocols that mandate that all rape kits are tested in a timely manner, so errors and negligence like More >
In an article from Hawai‘i last week, “Evidence Ignored in Unsolved Rapes,” Adrienne LaFrance of the Honolulu Civil Beat examines the backlog of untested rape kits in the state’s capital city.
In 2009, the last year for which data were available, 109 cases of the city’s 243 rape cases–or 45 percent–went unsolved and between 60 and 80 percent of the rape kits collected that year–a total of 139–were never to the city’s crime lab for testing.
The lab does not track the exact number of kits it receives each year, according to Michelle Yu, a city spokeswoman, and it is unknown how many of the unsolved cases had untested evidence associated with it. Yu told the Civil Beat that kits are brought to the police evidence property room and stay there unless the lab receives a “work request” from the prosecutor’s office. She estimates that between 30 and 60 sexual assault work requests are submitted to the DNA lab each year.
Supervising Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kathy Kealoha says that budget cuts, increased workloads and lack of a standard protocol on when to send kits to the lab may contribute to the low number of submitted work requests.
But Adriana Ramelli, Executive Director of the More >
Following a disclosure by Cuyahoga County prosecutors that an untested rape kit linked to a serial-killing suspect, Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine has called for a statewide protocol based on best practices of how rape case evidence should be handled and tested. He will be forming an 11-member Sexual Assault Kit Testing Commission to produce the “Ohio Model Sexual Assault Kit Testing Guide.”
In 2009, the Cleveland Heights Police Department took custody of the rape kit, which contained DNA evidence left on a victim’s body following a sexual assault, but it was never sent out to a crime lab for testing. Last week, the county prosecutors office revealed that evidence contained in this rape kit linked to Anthony Sowell, who has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping, abusing a corpse and tampering with evidence in the deaths of the 11 women. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
In another step forward for rape kit reform, the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) announced this week that they have sent all their untested rape kits to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department crime lab for testing, the Santa Monica Daily Press reports.
The state of the SMPD’s backlog of untested rape kits came to light in a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch entitled “Testing Justice: The Rape Kit Backlog in Los Angeles City and County.” The report focused on the backlog in police and crime lab storage facilities in Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, and the 47 cities within the county, of which Santa Monica is one. It found that there were as many as 485 untested rape kits that had been collected since 1996 in the Santa Monica Police Department’s storage facility were not tested.
“We are pleased to say that we zeroed in, made sure all kits were sent out and now we are clear of any backlog,” SMPD Captain Wendy Shirley said.
Prior to 2009, the SMPD did not send every rape kit to the crime lab for testing. The new policy of the department is to send every kit booked into evidence to the crime lab within 72 of More >