State Politics

Bill to test all rape kits in Idaho gets unanimous support, moves to House floor

The Idaho Statehouse in Boise.
The Idaho Statehouse in Boise.

Idaho lawmakers have fought for the last three years over the best way to track and test sexual assault kits, and on Wednesday, one committee made the choice to test them all.

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, began the process of reforming the treatment of what are commonly called rape kits, because up until 2016 there was no statewide regulation. On Wednesday, Wintrow spoke before the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee asking it to vote for her bill, H116.

The measure would amend current law to lift the exemption for victims to choose whether or not they want to have the kit tested. Wintrow explained that victims do still maintain the right to stop participating in prosecution, but the kit will be tested so any potential DNA could be put into the national database. The database could then be used to see whether the suspect has DNA that matches any crimes elsewhere.

In the past two years, the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office has seen two cases in which rape kit testing helped identify suspects who had victimized multiple people, according to deputy prosecutor Jean Fisher, who spoke to the committee.

Current law says a rape kit does not need to be tested if law enforcement does not believe a crime was committed. The new law would require law enforcement to test all kits unless there is concrete evidence that a crime was not committed.

Wintrow offered the example of evidence that a person was not in the state at the time of the alleged crime.

Matthew Gamette, Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab director, spoke to the committee members about kit testing in 2018. Gamette explained the progress the lab has made and some of the obstacles since the rate of rape kit submission for testing has increased.

The turnaround time goal for the lab is 90 days to test a kit, and ISP hopes to have turnaround times of less than 30 days. Now, on average, it takes about 208 days to test a kit. As of Dec. 31, the longest anticipated time to test a kit at the Meridian lab was 495 days.

Gamette said the lab is hopeful that all previously untested rape kits will be processed by the end of 2019.

Wintrow said that over the years, the process has improved, but there is still work to be done. The bill will now go to the House floor for a vote.

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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.