Politics & Government

‘We’ve finally fixed the system.’ Bill to eliminate rape-kit backlog signed into law

What’s inside of a ‘rape kit?’

Gary Shutler, DNA Technical Leader at the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory, shows the components of a "rape kit" for collection of evidence after a sexual assault.
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Gary Shutler, DNA Technical Leader at the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory, shows the components of a "rape kit" for collection of evidence after a sexual assault.

A bill that seeks to eliminate a backlog of about 10,000 untested rape kits by December 2021 was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday.

HB 1166 extends the statute of limitations for prosecuting a rape case. Currently, state law sets the time limit for sex offenses at one year after the date of the crime or one year from the date on which DNA testing or photo evidence identifies the suspect — whichever is later. The bill increases the extension based on DNA testing or photo evidence to two years.

A “bill of rights” section for rape victims says information must be provided to victims when they ask about the status of their kit and other evidence involved in the crime and whether the test yielded a DNA match — as long as providing that information doesn’t compromise an investigation.

Starting May 1, 2022, the State Patrol is required to complete testing of a rape kit within 45 days of receiving it from local law enforcement agencies under HB 1166.

“After all these years, we’ve finally fixed the system,” the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, said in an interview. “Never again will a rape kit sit on the shelf untested. This is about justice, first of all.”

Three sections of the bill took effect as the governor signed it, but the entire legislation becomes null and void if the Legislature does not provide funding in the state budget by June 30 to implement it.

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