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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Two DNA Bills Headed To Inslee’s Desk

OLYMPIA—Two measures relating to DNA evidence were approved by the Senate and are on their way to Gov. Inslee’s desk for his signature.

According to State Rep. Tina Orwall, justice isn’t very well served when more than 6,000 rape kits are currently sitting on police department shelves across the state with no testing date in sight. But that’s about to change thanks to a measure requiring that all sexual examination kits be tested going forward.

The main reason given for not testing these kits is that there’s no need to identify the perpetrators when the victims know who they are, but what other jurisdictions are finding as they are testing kits, is that 20 to 30 percent of these offenders are serial rapists.

“Rapists who rape women and children they know often rape women and children they don’t know, and many commit up to eight to ten rapes before they are finally caught and put behind bars.” said Orwall, prime sponsor of the bills. “This law will not only give victims a voice and bring them justice, it will also help keep our communities safe from these very violent offenders.”

Under House Bill 1068, approved by the Senate yesterday on a unanimous vote, law enforcement must submit a request for testing to the crime lab within 30 days of receipt of a sexual assault examination kit. It also creates a task force to review best practice models for managing all aspects of sexual assault examinations and for reducing the number of existing untested rape kits.

“Fairness, relief, and justice is what this bill provides to victims of sexual assault,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, sponsor of companion legislation. “Getting tested for DNA evidence after a violent sexual assault is an invasive and traumatic procedure. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through that process only to find out the rape kit was never tested. It is my hope that this bill will deliver some peace of mind to those victims who have undergone this procedure.”

Ohio adopted a similar policy and has determined that if all rape kits had been tested, they would have saved over $122 million in subsequent economic harm. By testing all rape kits, Ohio has indicted 229 rapists, many of whom are serial rapists and have committed other crimes. Similarly, Detroit identified 188 serial rapists from among the first 2,000 kits tested.

The other measure sponsored by Orwall and approved last week by the Senate on a 47-1 vote is House Bill 1069, requiring preservation of DNA product in any felony case initially charged as a violent or sex offense. The measure sets clear deadlines for the length of preservation, generally either the statute of limitations or 99 years, whichever occurs sooner.

While most states have laws on how long to preserve biological evidence, currently, in Washington there’s no requirement for DNA product preservation after a conviction.

“The main point of this bill is the pursuit of justice,” said Orwall about her legislation. “We just need to make sure we’re doing as much as possible to keep innocent people out of prison and keep criminals off the streets.”

The measure does not require the preservation of physical evidence such as cars or clothing, but rather the DNA product retrieved from said evidence, which, Orwall said, should condense what needs to be saved by jurisdictions.

“As we grow into the science of DNA, I believe that we will begin to rely on this information to help solve more crimes and cold cases,” said Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, the Senate sponsor of the companion bill. “The passage of this bill is a good start to beginning that process. When DNA is preserved throughout the length of a convicted felony offense or as long as the statute of limitations for a crime, we may have the ability to prevent further offenses, bring justice to victims, or exonerate the innocent. I predict that we will see more legislation addressing DNA in the future.”

Both measures are expected to be signed by the governor in the coming days.

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