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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Being Pared Down, Lawmakers Told

US Dept. of Justice. 
Work to eliminate a backlog of over 3,000 untested sexual assault kits at the Kentucky State Police crime lab has begun, with 299 of the kits mailed out for testing last week.

A $1.9 million grant from the District Attorney of New York or DANY will cover the cost to test the entire backlog of 3,091 rape kits, plus some, at the cost of $624 per kit, with approximately 299 of the kits sent out for testing each month, KSP Central Forensic Laboratory Manager Laura Sudkamp today told the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary.

Sorenson Forensics in Utah is under contract to test the backlogged kits, Sudkamp said. Results from the kits mailed out in May are expected within 60 days, she said.

In September 2015, an audit revealed at least 3,090 untested rape kits in Kentucky. Testing is currently in progress, and legislation is currently pending that would require law enforcement agencies to submit all rape kits for testing moving forward.

The audit, conducted by Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen, was a result of a law passed in March 2015. It revealed 3,090 untested rape kits in the state: 1,859 untested kits in 87 law enforcement agencies and 1,231 untested kits at the Kentucky State Police laboratory. That same month, September 2015, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office announced the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratories was awarded $1,988,507 in funding to test 3,300 rape kits.

Legislation pushing for a faster turnaround time on sexual assault testing kits was approved by the 2016 General Assembly with the passage of Senate Bill 63, which is now in effect. Sponsored by Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, SB 63 aims to reduce the turnaround time on testing of kits to an average of 90 days by 2018 and 60 days by July 2020, if adequate funds are available. The current turnaround time averages eight months, officials say.

SB 63 also requires that all currently untested kits be submitted to the KSP Forensic lab for testing by Jan. 1, 2017, and requires law enforcement agencies receiving Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program (KLEFP) training funds to have a process in place that notifies sexual assault victims of the testing status of their kit.

Sudkamp said a committee culled from a Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force established under the DANY grant is developing a pilot policy for victim notification “that will be utilized with the DANY kits.”

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, clarified that victim notification under SB 63 must be in the interest of the investigation. The bill allows notification to be delayed, for example, until a suspect is apprehended by police or until a Commonwealth’s Attorney consents to notification. Sudkamp said those qualifiers will be part of any final policy.

At the same time, the KSP Forensic lab is adding forensic biologists and increasing its supervisory staff to beef up testing of new kits and address lab testing in three key areas: crimes against persons (including violent crimes), property crime and serology screening—or screening of blood serum and other body fluids in relation to a crime scene.

Right now we are actively starting to work more cases than we get in,” said Sudkamp.

Praising SB 63 and its progress at the meeting was Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, who has worked as an advocate for domestic violence victims.

“This is going to affect so many lives. Over 3,000 victims are being given a chance at justice, and I think that’s really great,” said Jenkins.

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