NAMPA — Idaho's 130 law enforcement entities had until Monday to submit an audit regarding the number of untested sexual assault kits currently in each agency's custody.
The mandate came after the Idaho Legislature passed its first-ever legislation regarding sexual assault kits. The bill mandated that each law enforcement agency submit an audit to the Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab on all untested kits. Monday was the deadline to return the audits.
A request for copies of the audits was denied Monday. Idaho State Police Forensic Services stated in the denial letter that “the audit process for sexual assault evidence kits is not complete, and remains subject to review pursuant to that (cited) section until a final report is submitted to the legislature.”
The denial letter stated that prior to the legislative report, the audit process must remain confidential.
A sexual assault kit, commonly called a rape kit, is used in an examination to collect any forensic evidence found on the body of person after he or she has been allegedly sexually assaulted.
The one-time audits should have included the number of untested kits in each agency's custody, the date each kit was collected, and the reason it was not submitted to the lab for testing.
The audits sent to the lab were also required to include the number of any anonymous or unreported kits in the law enforcement agency's possession.
Matthew Gamette, director of forensic services for ISP, said he had not yet reviewed how many law enforcement agencies had submitted their audits on time, so he didn't have a reliable estimate on Monday.
All of the information collected in the audits will be submitted to the Idaho State Legislature in January.
Nampa Police Sgt. Tim Riha said Monday morning that his department was still working on its audit, but planned to submit it to the lab by the end of the day.
A copy of the Caldwell Police Department's audit, obtained by the Press-Tribune, found that the agency had some untested sexual assault kits, but the details were unclear by press time on Monday night.
A copy of the Canyon County Sheriff's audit, obtained by the Press-Tribune, found that the agency had 21 untested sexual assault kits, 16 of which still required testing. Two of the kits were cases where the victim refused testing and three of the kits were cases that were no longer being investigated as a crime.
The Press-Tribune sent a record request to Nampa Police on Monday but did not immediately receive a response. Pursuant to Idaho Public Records Law, the agency has up to three days to respond.
Idaho's new law, which passed the House and Senate unanimously, mandated all law enforcement agencies track the number of kits that come into the agency's custody. It does not mandate that all kits be tested.
ISP still has a policy in place stating there are two reasons a kit may not be tested. Either a victim requests his or her kit not be tested, or law enforcement determines no crime has been committed.
However, the law includes a stipulation that if police decide a kit shouldn’t be tested, a county prosecutor must sign off on that detective’s decision.
The exemption to give law enforcement some discretion came with criticism by some national advocates who argue all rape kits should be tested.
Lawmakers also approved $222,300 for the Idaho State Police to fund the salaries of two new DNA analysts and other resources for the first year. In subsequent years, $207,300 will be requested for this purpose.
The legislation was pitched to the Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.
Wintrow said that once the audits are collected, she hopes the data will help her evaluate the program, which parts of the state have the largest backlog and how the kits are tracked. The overview will offer insight into preserving evidence as well, she said.
In the state of Idaho, there is no statute of limitation for most sex crimes.
"If there is no statute of limitation on rape, I think we should have preserved (evidence)," she said.
In the upcoming legislative session, Wintrow said she hopes to address ways to prevent intentional and unintentional bias some people have against victims of sexual assault and dealing with the root cause of violence against women and children.
Wintrow was the director of the BSU Women's Center and is a board member for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
"If I can use that expertise to create better laws to help victims, I will do that," Wintrow said.
NATIONWIDE VICTIMS' RIGHTS
On Oct. 7, President Barack Obama signed the Sexual Assault Survivors' Act into law, which outlines regulations for rape kit evidence.
It is the first federal law outlining victims' rights when it comes to their sexual assault kits, therefore impacting Idaho law enforcement.
Among other issues, the law now mandates that survivors cannot be charged fees for undergoing a sexual assault kit examination. They also may not be denied getting a rape kit examination, even if they didn't file a police report, according to the new law.
Until the statute of limitations runs out, the kits must also be preserved at no cost to the victim. Authorities are also now required to notify a victim before destroying the kit, and the survivor has the right to request that the evidence be preserved.
Once the kit is tested, victims have the right to be notified if there is a DNA profile match.
The legislation was proposed following an investigation by the Idaho Press-Tribune in 2015 on the number of untested rape kits in the custody of 22 law enforcement agencies.
The investigation found the rate of rape kits being tested varied widely among all law enforcement agencies. There were also discrepancies in the way each agency collected, tracked and made decisions on how the kits should or shouldn't be sent in for testing.
The Press-Tribune investigation found that the percentage of kits submitted for testing ranged from 10 percent in Nampa to 23 percent in Twin Falls to 80 percent in Meridian and 60 percent in Coeur d’Alene.
Other issues found in the investigation revolved around the lack of uniform policy at each agency. In Idaho, the decision on whether to test a kit is often based upon the discretion of one detective.
Records requests found that some agencies couldn't provide a reason as to why a rape kit wasn't tested. The Bonneville County Sheriff's Office, for example, estimated it could take up to 60 hours of work to find out why its kits weren't tested, claiming the explanation was not tracked in an easily accessible way.
After a series of articles published in the Idaho Press-Tribune, Nampa Police decided to submit 90 previously untested kits, and Caldwell Police chose to submit 27 previously untested kits.
Since September 2014, the state lab has been sending some of its untested rape kits to an FBI lab in Virginia. Any untested kit sent to the FBI lab would have been more than a year old.
Of those sent, the FBI lab found 13 confirmed hits tying DNA evidence found in a rape kit to a person other than the victim. One of those hits came from a suspect who was already in the federal DNA database, meaning the suspect was an unknown perpetrator in the sexual assault.
Eleven of those 13 hits matched a known suspect, meaning the match was a suspect the victim already accused. One hit was tied to a victim's consensual partner, not the alleged suspect.
The federal database, called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, contains DNA collected from a variety of offenders. As of September, CODIS had produced over 346,880 hits assisting in more than 332,776 investigations.
DNA samples found in CODIS are not just from sex offense suspects. In Idaho, any convicted felon is required to submit a DNA sample, not just sex offenders.
In Idaho, CODIS has aided in 31 investigations, according FBI statistics.
The Ada County Sheriff's Office, Boise Police, Idaho Falls Police and Meridian Police have all had hits since they started submitting kits to the FBI. Jerome Police, Twin Falls Police and the Nampa Police have also sent kits to the lab, but haven't yet reported any hits.