New Law Closes Loopholes, Requires Evidence to Be Preserved for At Least 10 Years
RICHMOND, Va. – On Monday night, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-Virginia) signed bills by Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) to require storage of physical evidence recovery kits (PERKs) for at least 10 years for victims of sexual assault.
McClellan’s bill requires that physical evidence recovery kits in Virginia be stored by law enforcement for 10 years, or, in the case of a minor victim, until 10 years after the victim turns 18. This bill ends an exemption, requiring storage of physical evidence recovery kits for incidents that are categorized as “no crime occurred.”
“Virginia has made major strides in clearing our rape kit backlog, but we have more work to do to preserve evidence of sexual assault,” Sen. McClellan said. “This bill will support and empower victims of sexual assault by preserving all evidence for at least 10 years, and ending exceptions that have led to the destruction of evidence. Thank you to the victims and advocates who have bravely led the push for this important new law.”
“This legislation provides clarity for our local law enforcement agencies, helping them retain vital evidence crucial to doing their jobs of effectively solving crimes,” said House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn. “I was proud to work on the legislation to create the process for “PERK” kit retention in 2016, and this law is another critical step forward in the effort to support victims across the Commonwealth.”
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 Victim Assistance Network celebrates the signing of 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.”
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.
Jennifer McClellan was elected to the Senate of Virginia in 2017 after serving 11 years in the House of Delegates. She has been a leader on fighting climate change, strengthening public education and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, protecting voting rights, enacting criminal justice reform, combating domestic and sexual violence, and fighting discrimination of all kinds.