In 2018, California’s lawmakers forgot partisanship in moving towards the reduction of its untested sexual assault kit backlog. The House of Representatives and the Senate passed two different bills that targeted the issue.
California might be known for progressive legal policies and its past laws that treated criminals harshly. Despite this, there were 12,000 rape kits not subjected to examination in Los Angeles County and LA city. Law enforcement learned about those sexual assault kits only 10 years ago.
In California’s Long Beach city, it was not clear as to whether there was a backlog as of August 2017, as per the nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation. For your information, it is a not-for-profit organization looking to change the response of society to domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. They supported the two draft laws through their End the Backlog campaign.
Assembly Bill 3118, requiring the first stock of untested sexual assault kits throughout the US state, was approved on May 30, 2018, without opposition.
The California State Assembly Member, David Chiu was among the lawmakers who brought in the bill. The assemblyman said that the bill took those who survive sexual assaults a measure closer to achieving the legal justice that they deserve. To truly tackle the backlog, it was important to know the untested kit count in the state, as well as test every kit to avoid the increase of that backlog, said the assemblyman. As for Chiu, passing the bill was a powerful message of support to the survivors from the state Legislature.
Back then, California’s officials did not know the number of the kits stored across the US state.
Senate Bill 1449, mandating the process of testing every new rape kit, was approved unanimously on the same day. Back then, the legislation only stated that the products ‘should’ be checked. That legalese would be changed to ‘shall’, thus eliminating the vagueness that could make agencies feel that it was optional to test those kits.
Senator Connie Leyva regarded quickly processing any piece of DNA evidence as important to allow law enforcement people to recognize rapists and prosecute them. Leyva introduced the legal measure in the US Senate. Leyva said that it was not acceptable for a sexual assault kit to be stored in an untested form.
DNA would be strong if stored properly, and criminals had been caught due to that piece of evidence, but it would not degrade gradually during a long period.
In the June 2018 budget negotiation processes, both US legislative bodies had to pass their counterpart’s draft law and confirm the availability of the required funding.
The then-MD of Joyful Heart Foundation, Sarah Haacke Byrd, underlined the importance of reinstating dignity into the legal system for sexual assault victims across California. By approving the draft laws, the state demonstrated its commitment to aid the survivors in finding a path towards justice and healing.