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Portantino’s Rape Kit Testing Bill Gives Governor Second Chance to do the Right Thing, Passes Assembly Public Safety Committee

Assemblymember Anthony Portantino's (D – La Cañada Flintridge), latest effort to shed light on the problem of untested rape kits in California was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee by a vote of 7-0. The measure, Assembly Bill 558, would require all California law enforcement agencies to annually report the number of rape kits they receive. Portantino authored an identical measure last year (AB 1017) only to see the bill vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite strong bipartisan support in the legislature.

"I was very disappointed by the Governor's decision to veto AB 1017 last year," said Portantino. "It's frustrating to know a rapist could continue to walk the streets because a vital piece of evidence went untested. It's unacceptable that we don't even know what the full extent of the problem is in our State. AB 558 will provide state and local government officials with critical information regarding which agencies are struggling to keep up with rape kit testing. That information will then make it possible for us to direct the necessary resources to ensure that those agencies are able to process all the kits that they receive."

Under current law, evidence from rape kits are held in law enforcement evidence lockers where many languish, oftentimes past the statute of limitations for prosecuting the crime. While the number of unopened or untested kits throughout the State has been subject to debate, it is clear that local resources are not adequate to process rape kits for evidence unless there is a determined commitment to do so.

In 1996, the New York City Police Department had over 17,000 untested rape kits in their possession. After a commitment to test every one of these kits, they had over 2,000 "hits" – or DNA matches. These hits led to the resolution of 154 rape cold cases, including the rapes of two teenage girls.

"As has been demonstrated in New York, increased rape kit testing will yield evidence leading to the conviction of sexual predators who are currently escaping punishment. Ultimately, that is my goal for AB 558 and I hope that this year the Governor will agree with me," Portantino added.

A rape kit is the physical evidence, often including DNA, which is collected after a sexual assault. Portantino testified to the Committee saying that not testing rape kits after a woman has submitted herself to the invasive process of collecting a rape kit, "betrays the victim's faith in the criminal justice system."

AB 558 will next be considered by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

 

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