On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1517, which provides law enforcement agencies and crime labs with a time frame to report and process forensic evidence from sexual assault cases.
The bill encourages law enforcement agencies to submit forensic evidence from a sexual assault to a crime lab within 20 days from when it is processed. The bill also recommends labs process the forensic evidence to create a DNA profile for input into the Combined DNA Index System within 120 days of receiving the evidence. If the lab is unable to process the evidence, it can be submitted to another lab within 30 days.
“We look at this as a huge victory for survivors,” said Teresa Drenick, spokesperson for the Alameda County district attorney. “When a victim goes to have an exam, her or his body essentially becomes a crime scene. They undergo an invasive and long medical examination with the expectation that evidence will be found and tested.”
The California state auditor introduced a probe in February to investigate the backlog of rape kits from 2011 through 2013. The audit also aimed to investigate how funding is used to eliminate backlogs, review relevant regulations and suggest statutory or regulatory changes. The results of the audit are expected to be released in October.
“In Alameda county since 2011, we found more than 1,900 backlogged rape kits,” Drenick said. “Since findings those, many have been tested because of our efforts in partnering with law enforcement.”
The time frames encourage law enforcement agencies and crime labs to process and submit forensic evidence as soon as possible in order to ensure a sexual assault survivor the maximum amount of time to file a lawsuit according to the statute of limitations.
Submitting DNA profiles of suspects to the DNA system will help with determining the identity of a repeat offender or linking cases in order to uncover a serial rapist, according to Shaina Brown, spokesperson for California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“The benefit of getting DNA into databases is that you can solve old and new crimes,” said state Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “It can also exonerate people wrongfully committed.”
AB 1517 ensures that survivors have the right to know whether a DNA profile is obtained from the forensic evidence, if that profile has been submitted to a database and if a DNA profile match is discovered.
“Tragically, the issue of the evidence from rape and sexual assault sitting in law enforcement evidence rooms is happening all over the country, but the benefit of this law is that California is making it clear that we are not going to leave rape kits on the shelves,” Skinner said.