State of the Backlog
An extremely difficult fiscal climate in California’s government has narrowed the scope of the bill significantly since it was first introduced in the Assembly. Originally, and much like the laws recently passed in Texas (2011) and Illinois (2010), the bill would have required all jurisdictions to report on the number of untested rape kits in their storage facilities on an annual basis and to test all kits in a timely manner if sufficient resources are available. The bill now limits the counting and processing of rape kits to a pilot program in the ten counties with the lowest arrest rates for sexual assault.
The bill comes after several years of news about the backlogs in numerous jurisdictions in California, including Los Angeles City and County, which once had a backlog numbered at over 12,500 untested kits. To catch up on the progress of the state of the backlog in California, be sure to read past articles on the Backlog Blog here.
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 wrote about evidence contained in an untested rape kit that linked to Anthony Sowell who was, at the time, standing trial for murdering 11 women in Ohio. Sowell was convicted this week. Sentencing begins later in August.
We wanted to draw your attention to this article by Laura Strickler, an Emmy award winning journalist who produced a watershed news story on the rape kit backlog in the United States in 2009. In her coverage of the outcome of the trial on CBS News, she summarizes the numerous missed opportunities for the Cleveland and Cleveland Heights Police Departments to apprehend Sowell, a registered sex offender and subject of numerous reports of sexual assault. In one of those cases, police and prosecutors deemed the victim to be a “not credible” witness. In another, though police collected a rape kit, the responding officer allegedly failed to tell the special victims detective about the evidence and the case went cold. And as the article reports, like many jurisdictions across the United States, the Cleveland Heights Police Department did not have a computerized system for tracking rape kits.
The lessons learned form this case are many, but they came at a devastatingly high cost. The Cleveland Heights PD 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 >
We just received the incredible news from Texas that Governor Rick Perry has signed a bill into law that makes Texas the second state in the country, after Illinois, to pass significant rape kit reform. The new law, which takes effect September 1, requires all jurisdictions to count and report all untested kits and requires the Department of Public Safety to develop a plan to test every one of them.
Having this legislation passed in Texas represents an enormous milestone in the movement to end the backlog of untested rape kits. A groundswell for reform is happening. We hope that in the coming year, state legislators from around the country will be inspired by the work of their counterparts in Texas and Illinois. Texas has shown that it is possible to enact rape kit reform, giving survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones the opportunity for healing and justice that rape kit testing brings.
You can read more of our coverage of this process here on the Backlog Blog and our op-ed from last month urging the passage of the bill in the Houston Chronicle. We will keep you updated as there is more news about this historic event.More >