Assembly Bill 1517

New state law puts deadline on rape kit DNA testing, but will have little impact on SF’s backlog

The Police Department has vowed to get rid of its rape-kit backlog that has lingered for years — more than 700 cases — by the end of 2015.

Since Jan. 1, as part of that effort, the department has sent all forensic evidence from new sexual assault cases to labs for testing to keep its decade-old backlog from growing.

But by 2016, a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week will make such backlogs a thing of the past.

Assembly Bill 1517 mandates that all DNA rape kits must be tested within a certain time frame, which had not been the case. Many law enforcement agencies had huge backlogs, which led to many unsolved rape cases.

By amending the Sexual Assault Victims' DNA Bill of Rights, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner's Assembly Bill 1517 gives law enforcement deadlines to forward rape kits to labs to process rape kits and enter that data into a state database. Additionally, the law requires law enforcement agencies to notify rape victims when the statute of limitations is about to expire and a rape kit has not yet been tested.

“The bill indirectly addresses the backlog by ensuring the backlog does not get any bigger,” Skinner staffer David Garcia said. “Also, the bill demonstrates that California is taking steps to address this problem, which better positions the state to vie for federal dollars President Barack Obama has proposed in his budget for the purpose of eliminating rape-kit backlogs.”

The law specifically encourages agencies to send all evidence taken from victims to a lab within five days or to send all forensic evidence in rape cases to the crime lab within 20 days of being booked into evidence. Also, it states that labs should test evidence within 120 days of receiving it or send it to another lab within 30 days of receipt.

A request for comment was not responded to by the Police Department.

Heather Marlowe, an activist for sexual assault victims who pressured the department to address the backlog after her rape kit went untested, said the new law is a good start but much work needs to be done.

“It acknowledges the importance and value of testing rape kits and acknowledges professionalism with regards to respecting rape survivors' expectations and needs,” she said of the law.

Rape kits can provide strong physical evidence that a rape occurred and who might have committed it.

But, she added, since AB 1517 is a mandate without funding, she hopes Attorney General Kamala Harris and police departments fund such efforts.

San Francisco is not alone when it comes to rape-kit backlogs. According to Skinner's office, Alameda County had 1,900 untested kits in 2012 and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had 12,000.

Rape cases in San Francisco

135: Reported in first six months of 2014

133: Reported in the first half of 2013

17: Arrests made in first half of 2014

12: Arrests made in first half of 2013

12%: Clearance rate in first half of 2014

9%: Clearance rate in first half of 2013

18%: Clearance rate in 2012

40%: Average clearance rate for cities of 250,000 and more in 2012

Sources:

Police Department, FBI

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