California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 22 into law, a bill requiring law enforcement agencies and forensic laboratories in California to promptly test all newly collected rape kits.
The legislation, authored by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, requires all rape kits to be submitted to the appropriate agencies in 20 days and tested within 120 days. It passed unanimously in the state Senate and Assembly.
“There is absolutely no reason why a rape kit should ever sit untested for months or years when statistics tell us that testing rape kits helps to ensure justice by identifying perpetrators,” Leyva said in a press release. “By signing SB 22, the Governor is standing with me in sending a clear message to survivors that we hear them, we see them and we believe them.”
The immediate testing of rape kits can help identify unknown assailants, distinguish serial perpetrators and link crimes for investigative purposes. Immediate testing can also exonerate those wrongfully convicted, according to a press release.
In 2014, the Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, faced scrutiny because of an investigation that revealed that 1,900 rape kits had gone untested in Alameda County. This prompted officials — including then-Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and District Attorney of Alameda County Nancy O’Malley — to request information from BPD regarding the backlogs.
“We were one of the first departments in Alameda County to work with DA O’Malley and her investigators to review and process any and all kits which had not been processed because they were not needed as evidence,” said BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood in an email. “Since 2014, we process all kits as a standard practice, and we have no ‘backlog’ of kits.”
Greenwood said the department supports laws that make for a safer community, and all new legislation is reviewed to ensure that BPD policies and procedures adhere to the mandates.
According to Teresa Drenick, the Alameda County deputy district attorney, O’Malley’s request was a major factor in bringing the issue of untested rape kits in California to the public’s attention.
“I have fought tirelessly on a statewide and national stage to ensure that every sexual assault kit is tested in a timely manner,” O’Malley said in a statement. “We have finally succeeded in California and now sexual assault survivors can be assured that evidence taken from their body in a sexual assault examination will never again languish in an evidence locker or crime lab.”
The legislation also ensures that survivors have equal access to the rape kit submission and the evidence gathered from forensic analysis.
Leyva said SB 22 is a “clear victory” for survivors of rape and sexual assault.
“After a survivor has already endured a thorough and invasive rape kit exam, it is critical that we promptly test those kits to uncover potentially crucial evidence that can help ensure justice and put rapists behind bars,” Leyva added.