State Politics

Bill that would mandate testing of nearly all sexual assault kits moves to Idaho House

Melissa Wintrow
Melissa Wintrow

Bringing her fourth version of a legislative change for sexual assault victims, Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, pitched a bill on Thursday to test almost all sexual assault kits, with only rare expectations.

Wintrow introduced the bill Thursday afternoon in the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee, and received unanimous approval to move it forward.

Wintrow has been responsible for heading multiple pieces of legislation that cover the tracking and testing of sexual assault kits, commonly called rape kits, all of which have moved forward and brought reform to testing in the state.

Thursday’s bill would remove the exemption of not testing a bill per a victim’s request, because Wintrow said it has resulted in DNA not being tested and entered into the national database, called CODIS, which can stop serial rapists. She said victims do still maintain the right to tell prosecutors if they no longer want to proceed with a prosecution.

This change would allow law enforcement to enter the DNA into the national database to see whether it matches any other cases.

Wintrow’s latest bill also offers clarification to law enforcement that they must test a kit unless there is evidence that no crime occurred, and as an example she offered that there could be video of the suspect in another state at the time of the alleged crime, for instance. This part of the bill eliminates the ability for law enforcement to simply chose whether or not they believe a victim.

She said that if DNA is entered into a national database and it is later determined that the person did not commit a crime, then by law, the DNA must come out of the database, preventing wrongful prosecution.

“This is very important public safety policy,” Wintrow said in a news release after the hearing. “Because the more kits we can enter into the national database, the greater chance we have to identify a ‘serial’ rapist and hold them accountable.”

The evidence in the kits is collected from a victim’s body after he or she is assaulted, and it can take several hours. It involves photographing, swabbing and examining the victim’s body. Before 2016, there was no regulation on how the kits were tracked or tested.

The bill carries a fiscal note of $185,700 to pay for a DNA forensic scientist and the associated costs of processing the kits at the Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab.

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Reporter Ruth Brown covers the criminal justice and correctional systems in Idaho. She focuses on breaking news, public safety and social justice. Prior to coming to the Idaho Statesman, she was a reporter at the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Bakersfield Californian and the Idaho Falls Post Register.