June 26, 2014 at 10:59 pm

New Mich. law sets stricter rules for rape kits

Chad Livengood / The Detroit News, file)

Lansing— The Michigan State Police hopes to clear a backlog of 11,000 kits containing evidence of unsolved sexual assault crimes in Wayne County by next May, Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday.

Snyder announced the goal before signing legislation creating new guidelines and processes for hospitals and law enforcement agencies to handle rape kits. The new law is in response to the thousands of evidence boxes discovered abandoned in 2009 in a Detroit police storage facility.

Last June, Attorney General Bill Schuette designated $4 million from a state lawsuit settlement fund to pay for clearing the backlog of untested rape kits that date back 25 years, to which Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has drawn national attention.

After lawmakers appropriated the money, the state police and private vendors have completed testing on 600 rape kits, said Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police.

DNA from some of the newly tested kits have helped identify offenders, Etue said.

“We’re seeing some serial linkages as well,” she said.

About 2,000 rape kits from the 11,000 kits from Detroit were tested before the special state funding was made available. Approximately 7,200 kits remain untested, Snyder said.

Snyder said the bill was in response to “the very unfortunate circumstance, the terrible circumstance of Detroit having essentially 11,000 kits that weren’t processed in a timely fashion.”

“This sends a strong message that that shouldn’t happen,” he said.

After touring the state police’s forensics crime lab near Lansing, Snyder signed the Sexual Assault Kit Evidence Submission Act.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, requires hospitals to notify police agencies of evidence collected from a rape victim within 24 hours of getting the victim’s consent.

Law enforcement agencies would have 14 days to pick up the evidence kit and another 14 days to send it to a state police or private crime lab for analysis.

Under the new law, the state police would then have 90 days to analyze the evidence.

It takes state police forensic scientists about 53 days to test and process a rape kit, but the agency has a goal of reducing response times to an average of 30 days, Etue said.

“This is really a powerful message for sexual assault victims to know they matter and are not alone,” said Debi Cain, executive director of the Michigan Domestic & Sexual Violence Prevention & Treatment Board.