A press release from the WA Attorney General’s Office confirms that the office will provide 53 local law enforcement agencies across the state with funding for refrigeration units to store evidence from sexual assault investigations.
A sexual assault kit is a collection of evidence gathered from a survivor by a medical professional, usually a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner. A crime lab then tests the evidence for DNA that could help law enforcement find a perpetrator.
Ferguson is providing the new units as part of his Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) — a campaign to improve Washington’s response to sexual assault and end the state’s rape kit backlog. The Attorney General’s Office is allocating $177,204.73 of its federal SAKI grant funding to local law enforcement for the purpose of purchasing refrigeration units to store sexual assault kits. The Attorney General’s Office heard from local law enforcement that this is a major need. These resources will help ensure that sexual assault evidence, including evidence that needs to be refrigerated, does not expire due to lack of capacity.
“More storage means more evidence can be tested, and more crimes can be solved,” Ferguson said. “These resources will bring justice to survivors.”
This increased storage capacity will help law enforcement agencies comply with a 2020 law, House Bill 2318, that requires “unreported” sexual assault evidence to be stored for at least 20 years. This includes a sexual assault kit and all associated evidence for an assault that a victim has not yet reported to law enforcement. An unreported sexual assault kit is taken at a hospital and stored by law enforcement, should a victim choose to file a report. Evidence from reported assaults must be stored for 100 years.
The Blaine Police Department, Ferndale Police Department and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office are receiving new units.
There are two types of sexual assault kit backlogs in Washington and across the country. The first is the “unsubmitted” sexual assault kit backlog, which consists of kits that sit in a law enforcement evidence storage facility because a DNA analysis was never requested. The second type of backlog occurs in crime lab facilities, when sexual assault kits have been submitted to the lab, but have not yet been tested. Once the kits are tested, local law enforcement can use DNA to reopen cold cases.
A significant type of evidence in sexual offense cases is the DNA recovered from rape kits. Rape kits are the physical evidence and notes from an assault victim’s examination. The physical evidence usually contains DNA such as hair, blood, bodily fluids, clothes and belongings of the victim, and physical evidence from the crime scene. In some cases, the rape kit findings are the primary evidence used against a defendant. However, rape kit findings do not necessarily equate with forced or unlawful sexual conduct. courts will evaluate the probative value of DNA findings and if the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a sex offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.