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Bill would require timely processing of rape evidence

posted Apr 19, 2016, 9:26 PM by Resty Manapat

A bill that would help bring justice for sexual assault victims has moved out of the Senate Health Committee.

The bill (S.6430-a) would require that all sexual offense evidence, known as “rape kits,” be tested in a timely manner and that they be tracked. Too often DNA evidence related to sexual crimes gets collected and then quietly swept under the rug. In  New York state it is required that all hospitals and clinics be equipped to collect evidence from victims, however it may take months, or even years for it to be tested and put into the system, if ever.

Currently, New York state does not have a standard for how long after being collected rape kits must be tested. This lag time between collection and testing prevents the DNA information from being entered in the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which could help resolve open cases faster.

Without testing and entering evidence into the CODIS, rapists and sexual predators are sometimes able to slide through the cracks and get away with their crimes. Victims, who were brave enough to come forward and do their part to catch their assaulter, often do not get the retribution they deserve.

“Victims of sexual assaults exhibit remarkable strength and courage when they take the steps to submit evidence to law enforcement in order to catch their attackers and prevent other similar crimes,” said Sen. Hannon, R-Garden City, the bill’s sponsor. “This legislation would build upon the progress New York has made in preventing and prosecuting sexual violence by making certain that the DNA evidence collected is tested and used to get justice for victims and to exonerate the innocent.”

The bill would ensure that every kit collected, with priority to those already filed in the system, would be tested in a timely manner. Although the specific time frame is not yet available it assures future and past victims that their evidence will not go untested.

The bipartisan bill would not only assign specific time frames for transmitting and processing new kits collected, but would also leave longer time frames for kits collected before the passing of this legislation, guaranteeing the backlog of old kits would not interfere with essential new cases.

Additionally, the bill would coordinate transportation of the kits to and from laboratories on a regular schedule, and provide law enforcement agencies with appropriate funding for such testing.

Natasha Alexenko, founder of Natasha’s Justice Project, said after she was raped at gunpoint, her rape kit sat collecting dust in New York for nearly a decade.

“I am inspired by Senator Hannon’s relentless pursuit of justice for survivors of this devastating crime. [This bill] empowers survivors by acknowledging our importance in the investigative process. Passing S.6430-a will bring systemic change to the way rape evidence is handled. This is a public safety issue that affects the men, women and children. Rape kit reform is long overdue in New York state.”

The 2016-2017 budget passed April 1 includes $1 million in funding specifically for the local law enforcement agencies to use in testing and processing sexual assault evidence.

The bill is in the Senate Finance Committee. There is no companion bill in the Assembly.

 

Source: Legislative Gazette

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