Assemblymember David Chiu and Senator Connie M. Leyva Announce Efforts to Eliminate Rape Kit Backlog

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Bills will complete a statewide audit of all backlogged kits and require the testing of all new kits

(SACRAMENTO)--Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino), and advocates introduced legislation today to address the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits in California.  The measures will require a statewide audit of all untested kits and mandate the testing of all new kits collected.

“Sexual assault survivors deserve justice,” said Assemblymember David Chiu.  “To truly address the backlog, we need to know how many untested kits exist in California, and we must test all kits moving forward to ensure we do not increase that backlog.  These bills will ensure we are finally getting answers for survivors.”

Assembly Bill 3118, introduced by Assemblymember Chiu, would require a one-time, statewide audit of California’s rape kit backlog by requiring all agencies that receive, maintain, or preserve sexual assault evidence kits to survey all kits in the agencies’ possession and report those findings to the California Department of Justice.  The bill also requires the Department of Justice to report the findings of the audit to the Legislature.    

Federal funding is available to local law enforcement agencies through the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative for the purpose of testing sexual assault evidence kits, but localities need to know the number of untested kits before applying for those funds.

Senator Connie M. Leyva introduced SB 1449, a bill that will require the testing of all new sexual assault evidence kits.  Existing law states that law enforcement agencies “should” submit evidence collected to a laboratory within 20 days and laboratories “should” process that evidence within 120 days following receipt.  SB 1449 will require that evidence is submitted within in 20 days and tested within 120 days.

“Together, SB 1449 and AB 3118 will help ensure that we continue to stand on the side of justice for rape victims in California,” said Senator Connie M. Leyva.  “I look forward to working with Assemblymember Chiu on these important bills that will protect public safety and solidify California’s leadership in helping victims of rape and sexual assault.”

These bills come amidst the national uproar around the mismanagement of sexual assault evidence kits and what is known as the “rape kit backlog.” Some jurisdictions have worked to decrease their backlogs to varying degrees, but there is currently no comprehensive data available in California about the number of sexual assault evidence kits that remain untested.  While existing law encourages law enforcement to test kits in a timely manner, how different agencies interpret and implement this legislative guidance varies significantly.

California made progress in this area last year with the passage of several bills aimed at reducing the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits.  AB 41, authored by Assemblymember Chiu and signed into law by Governor Brown, mandated the tracking of new kits.  Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) passed a measure that banned law enforcement from destroying kits for 20 years and required victims receive notice of the status of their kits.  Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) passed legislation that created a mechanism to raise some funding for the testing of kits.  SB 1449 builds on the work of Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) who authored AB 1517 in 2014, which created recommended timelines for the handling and testing of sexual assault evidence kits.  Further steps must be taken if California is to eliminate its backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits entirely.  

The Joyful Heart Foundation, Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, and Natasha’s Justice Project are sponsors of both AB 3118 and SB 1449.

"Access to justice for sexual assault survivors in California should not depend on a zip code,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation.  “Despite being among the first states to uncover this issue almost a decade ago, cities across the state have historically engaged in inconsistent efforts at reform and transparency. We are proud to endorse these bills - introduced by Senator Leyva and Assemblymember Chiu - that will finally bring transparency to rape kit handling procedures in California and uncover the true scope of the problem. Only with statewide reform will law enforcement agencies be required to account for and test the rape kits in their custody; and when the extent of a jurisdiction’s backlog is revealed, real reform can begin,"

“Thank you to Assemblymember David Chiu and Senator Connie Leyva for their leadership on this important public safety legislation,” said Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.  “The prompt testing and effective tracking of rape kits will bring justice to sexual assault victims throughout our state.”