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Rep. Wintrow introduces bill to test all rape kits

February 9, 2019

BOISE — After criticism of law enforcement’s lack of attention to and backlog of sexual assault and rape kits, new legislation seeks to establish a system so that no kit is left untested.

The bill follows a string of efforts by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, to improve rape kit testing and tracking in Idaho. The kits include DNA evidence collected from a victim’s body and clothing after a sexual assault, which is then entered into a database.

An Idaho Press investigation in 2015 found police agencies had backlogs of kits left untested on shelves, with no method for tracking when and why a kit didn’t get tested. A bill sponsored by Wintrow in 2016 and signed into law requires agencies to track the kits and report how many go untested — but it doesn’t require the kits be tested.

Wintrow’s latest bill, introduced Thursday, calls for the testing of all kits with few exceptions. The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to introduce it.

The bill requires law enforcement agencies to “make a good faith effort” to collect and submit reports associated with the collective sample and requires medical agencies collecting the kit to document any information within the state kit tracking system.

Wording is adjusted that specifies that all rape kits are to be tested unless the complaint is found to be unfounded, when evidence shows there was no crime, Wintrow said.

“The law now says sexual assault kits aren’t tested if law enforcement says no crime was committed or if the victim says they don’t want it tested,” she said. “That sets up law enforcement and the victim for bad outcomes.”

The bill would slash the section of the law that says a kit will not be tested if the victim asks not to have it done. Wintrow stated after working with victims advocates, “prosecuting and testing a kit are very different,” she said.

“A case would still never be prosecuted if the victim doesn’t want to move forward,” she said, “but what we weren’t thinking about initially was other victims.”

The change makes sure that when evidence is tested, it is always submitted to the federal database in case it matches another sexual assault case.

The potential fiscal impact of the bill is estimated to be $185,700, which includes an additional DNA forensic scientist and costs of processing additional and backlogged sexual assault evidence kits.

Idaho State Police worked through 316 backlogged rape kits in 2017 — but still 527 unsubmitted kits dating back to 1995 remain unprocessed.

Idaho’s progress has gained attention from other states. In 2016, Idaho became the first in the country to use an online tracking system for sexual assault kits. Another Wintrow bill, passed in 2018, ensured that victims of sexual assault would not be charged for the medical exams.

“I feel good about this policy,” Wintrow said.

Post Register reporter Nathan Brown contributed to this report.

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