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Whether to solve the crime in the first instance, or to exonerate an innocent person, there are many reasons to fully process rape kits as quickly as possible. And while there is some federal funding set aside to address the enormous backlog of unprocessed sexual assault kits nationwide, the actual processing is left up to local law enforcement.
But that is starting to change. Several states are passing legislation aimed at decreasing the backlog of unprocessed rape and sexual assault kits, as well as requiring law enforcement agencies to fully process kits with a specific amount of time. Those laws can vary, however, so here's a quick overview of rape kit issues and some state laws trying to address them.
The backlog of unanalyzed forensic evidence sexual assault can be attributed to two main reasons: Either evidence collected from sexual assault victims was never sent to the crime lab and remains in local law enforcement evidence rooms or elsewhere, or the evidence was sent to a crime lab, but never tested.
So, states have attempted to address the backlog in two ways: Mandating rape and sexual assault kit processing, and allocating the financial resources to do so. For instance, Minnesota just passed a law requiring police obtain a finished sexual assault evidence kit from a hospital or clinic within 10 days after a rape is reported and ship it to a forensic laboratory for DNA testing within 60 days. Meanwhile, Washington is allocating $3 million to test about a third of its backlog of 6,000 rape kits sitting in police evidence rooms statewide.
The laws mandating the process for sex assault kit acquisition, retention, and testing can vary significantly from state to state. Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan have also enacted laws that mandate submission of all rape kits for testing within certain timeframes, and Texas and Michigan have included funding for rape kit testing in their budgets. Those states, along with Kentucky, have also enacted multiple measures to prevent a future backlog of untested kits.
Where to start, though? Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, and Minnesota are among the states that require law enforcement agencies to audit their inventory of untested sexual assault kits. And laws in California, Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Utah give sex assault survivors the right to know the status of their kit.
To get more specifics about the law in your state, or to find out the status of a kit taken in your case, contact a criminal law attorney where you live.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.