Bill Will Protect Victims, Eliminating Exemptions to Evidence Storage Laws
RICHMOND, Va. – Today, the Senate of Virginia unanimously passed Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s (D-Richmond) SB 658 to require that law enforcement store physical evidence recovery kits (PERKs) for 10 years for adult victims of sexual assault. McClellan’s bill would also require preservation of PERKs for minor victims until 10 years after they turn 18.
Under Virginia law, the Department of Forensic Science provides PERKs to health care providers to collect evidence from victims of sexual assault during forensic medical examinations, and to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for death investigations in which the deceased may have been a victim of sexual assault.
However, current law includes several exemptions to storage of PERKs, including if the incident is initially classified as “no crime occurred” or if law enforcement initially determines that analysis is not necessary as part of a death investigation. PERKs also may not be preserved if they are connected to a crime that occurred outside of Virginia or a crime being investigated by another law enforcement agency, and the kits are not transferred to another agency.
McClellan’s bill will close these exemptions, ensuring that all PERKs are kept for at least 10 years. The bill also requires law enforcement to inform a victim of the identification number assigned to the kit by a health care provider and gives them information about the kit, unless the information were to compromise an investigation.
“Virginia has made major strides in clearing our rape kit backlog, but we have more work to do to preserve evidence of sexual assault,” said Sen. McClellan. “This bill will support and empower victims of sexual assault by protecting evidence for at least 10 years – without exception. The bill also provides clarity for all Virginia law enforcement, with a clear standard for how to store physical evidence recovery kits.”
A recent analysis of Virginia State Police cases in Virginia showed that fewer than 20% of all rape cases in the state were cleared by arrest. Since there is no statute of limitations on felony criminal sexual assault in Virginia, preserving PERKs will allow for future testing and use of DNA evidence.
“Virginia Victim Assistance Network is pleased to see the Senate unanimously approve SB658, improving storage, notification, and tracking procedures for physical evidence recovery kits,” said Virginia Victim Assistance Network Executive Director, Kate Hanger. “Senator McClellan included survivors in this effort, ensuring they are fully informed about their case. We thank the Senator for carrying this important legislation.”