Reforms In Processing DNA in Illinois Taking Shape

Efforts are underway in Illinois to change the way DNA evidence in rape cases is processed.  The Chicago Tribune conducted an exhaustive investigation of the problems associated with the Illinois State Police Crime Lab and discovered that many rape kits were not being tested.  A rape kit allows a nurse or a doctor to collect semen, saliva and other potential sources of DNA samples from victims.  The process of securing the DNA evidence can take up to 8 hours but the results can be very powerful.  The results may link an offender to a crime or even exonerate a suspect.  Even when rape kits are submitted to the crime lab, the lab sometimes refused to conduct any testing and returned them to the police agency.  At least 88 rape kits were found to have been returned to the Chicago Police untested.  On February 1, 2010, we published a post describing how an arrest for a 2004 rape was made as a result of the analysis of a rape kit recovered from the basement of the Village of Harvey Police Department in a raid from local authorities in 2007. The International Human Rights Watch estimates that there are at least 4,000 untested rape kits throughout the state.  This is considered a low estimate because only 82 police agencies throughout the State of Illinois have agreed to participate in the reporting process.
The reasons that these rape kits are not being tested are numerous.  One reason is that the prosecutor decided not to press charges.  For example, if a victim acknowledges there was sex but that it was consensual, or the victim recanted the charges, or the victim no longer wishes to pursue charges or the prosecutor and police determine that the victim is not believable.  Another reason given is that federal law requires that that DNA profiles in databases come from a crime.  Their position is that if no charges were filed then no crime.  However, the FBI does not agree with that interpretation of the law.  As long as the prosecutor believes that a crime was committed they can have the DNA analyzed.  However, consensus seems to be gathering around the idea that analysis of all rape kits is required, regardless of whether charges are ever brought.  The main reason seems to be that analysis of all these rape kits may help solve other crimes.  For instance, analysis may reveal whether a serial rapist is involved in the case.  
The Illlinois Attorney General’s Office is working on legislation that would require police to submit sexual assault evidence to the state’s crime lab with 10 days of picking up the rape kit from the hospital.  In addition, the proposed legislation would require all police agencies to submit all untested rape kits in their possession to the crime lab within 30 days.  
However, the backlog and lack of sufficient funding may cause additional problems.  If the crime lab is swamped with these rape kits, it may force a delay in the testing of DNA evidence from other violent crimes, including ones that are currently pending in court.  In 2009 the lab received 5,758 cases.  About one-third of them involved sex crimes.  The backlog was becoming a problem but after they received a $2.5 million federal grant, they have made great progress in reducing the backlog.  However, if thousands of rape kits are are submitted, the resources of the crime lab will be stretched.  Any proposed legislation must address this potential problem.
For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.legaldefenderspc.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.