Bills To Help Address Florida's Untested Rape Kits Backlog Head To House, Senate Floors

Feb 18, 2016

Credit MGN Online

Bills creating statewide standards to help in the processing of Florida’s thousands of untested rape kits as well as future kits are now heading to the floors of the House and Senate, after passing their last committees Thursday.

There’s an implication that the state’s backlog of untested rape kits is due to inattention or lack of compassion for victims. That’s according to Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart), who says he wants to set the record straight.

Last month, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement finished a final assessment surveying law enforcement crime labs. They found that there are more than 13,000 untested rape kits across the state—9,400 of which should be tested.

Negron says according to FDLE’s report, there are legitimate reasons other kits were not tested.

“41 percent, there was a decision by the victim not to proceed,” he said. “There were cases where the State Attorney’s office declined to prosecute, 20 percent the person pled guilty. So, it was not tested—maybe it should be—because it was deemed not necessary. And, then there are a significant number of cases that there are non-reporting victims who would like to have a kit collected, but make a decision that maybe any of us would disagree with, but they do make a decision on their own as adults that they do not wish to report the name of the person who may have perpetrated this crime.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers) is hoping to address the rape kits backlog, and her bill helps set guidelines for crime labs to follow.

“Nationally, and in our state, there’s an epidemic of sexual assault kits going untested,” she said. “Florida took the first steps towards fixing this problem in our state last fiscal year, where—under the leadership of Chair Negron, we funded an audit of law enforcement agencies statewide. And, the data collected shows that we have the opportunity in Florida to help thousands of victims. Testing those kits will provide valuable evidence that will help law enforcement and State’s Attorneys lock up these predators.”

Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach)  is carrying the measure in the House.

“House Bill 179 requires the timely submission and testing of DNA evidence collected in association with sexual assault investigations,” she said. “The bill requires FDLE and each laboratory within the statewide criminal analysis laboratory system in coordination with the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence to adopt and disseminate guidelines and procedures for the collection, submission, and testing of DNA evidence that is obtained in connection with an alleged sexual offense.”

The bill states collected DNA evidence must be submitted to a crime lab within 30 days. The kit must also be tested within 4 months of submission. And, the guidelines must be adopted by the beginning of next year.

Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) questioned why this isn’t being done now.

“Why is this not being done,” he asked. ”It would sound like the collection of evidence should be almost automatically turned over to the appropriate authorities. Why isn’t it done at this time?”

And, Adkins says that’s a good question.

“So, I think that’s the question a lot of survivors are asking,” she replied. “When we began looking into this issue, we realized there is no statewide standard whereby once the evidence is collected, that it’s submitted to the laboratories for testing. So, that’s the purpose of this bill. Obviously, we need to deal with the backlog, but we also need to establish the policy moving forward that survivors of these crimes know and they can expect how they’re going to receive justice.”

And, her bill passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously. Benacquisto’s measure also passed the Senate Appropriations committee Thursday with a unanimous vote—sending both bills to their respective floors.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.