Ending the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States will take a deep commitment at all levels of government. Every state must have clear laws and policies mandating deadlines for testing and tracking rape kits. Strong policies for handling rape kits ensure that the criminal justice system holds offenders accountable and builds opportunities for justice and healing for survivors. This checklist provides guidance to state lawmakers drafting rape kit reform legislation and covers all the provisions that should be included in a comprehensive rape kit reform law.
Essential reforms to eliminate the backlog include:
- An annual statewide inventory and report of sexual assault evidence kits to identify the number of untested kits (in law enforcement facilities, hospitals, crime labs, and any other storage facility) to understand the extent of the problem. Mandate that all relevant facilities in your state submit this information to a designated state-level agency within a timeframe of 180 days.
- Mandatory submission and testing of all previously unsubmitted (backlogged) sexual assault evidence kits, with deadlines for both submission and testing. Mandate that each and every untested rape kit (including those past the statute of limitations) be submitted to the lab within a timeframe of 180 days.
- Mandatory submission and testing requirements for all newly collected kits, with deadlines for both submission and testing. Mandate that, for all ongoing rape kit examinations: hospitals must notify the appropriate law enforcement agency within 24 hours of kit collection; law enforcement agencies must pick up the kit within three business days of notification; law enforcement agencies must submit the kit to the lab for analysis within seven days of pickup; and the lab must test the kit and enter any resulting DNA profiles into the CODIS DNA database within 30 days of receipt.
- An electronic tracking system for sexual assault evidence kits that provides a way for survivors to check the status of their kits throughout the entire process, from collection to analysis and final disposition.
- Victims’ right to notice and to be informed about the status of their kits, and a mandate that victims be notified if there is a decision not to test a kit or if there is any planned destruction of a kit.
- Appropriation of state funding to implement these reforms.
Additional best practice policies for legislators to consider when drafting include:
- Expressly articulating the intent of the law;
- Including clear definitions for all terms used in the law;
- Eliminating or otherwise reforming the statute of limitations for relevant crimes;
- Reforming policies for victim compensation funds; and
- Enumerating evidence retention policies to guide kit preservation and destruction.
Our legislative handbook includes a detailed description of each of the recommended reforms, along with model language and examples from states that have already passed effective legislation.
Joyful Heart’s model legislation is a survivor-centered approach to eliminate the backlog of untested kits in the state, prioritize the needs and rights of survivors, and take serial offenders off the streets. The recommendations that follow align with federal best practices as outlined in the National Institute of Justice’s July 2017 report, and have been reviewed by crime lab personnel, victim advocates, medical professionals, DNA experts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victims’ rights experts, and survivors. Every state should customize the model to ensure it addresses each state’s unique challenges and existing statutes. The Joyful Heart Foundation is ready to assist in enacting the best legislation possible.