BOISE — “We have to start by believing.”
Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury testified Tuesday in front of lawmakers on the House Judiciary and Rules committee on a bill that would set standards for how long police keep physical evidence in sex assault cases and guarantee victims can get medical exams.
“We have to give these victims the confidence that we as a system are going to be there for them,” Kingsbury said.
The bill cleared the committee unanimously and now goes to the House.
Kingsbury has been in law enforcement for 27 years, including working as a sexual assault investigator and detective in Nampa. He rose to be Nampa’s chief before coming to Twin Falls. Shortly before leaving Nampa, he made policy changes to the way rape kits were handled there in response to concerns about low testing rates both there and in many other jurisdictions.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise. Wintrow sponsored a law that passed last year that set guidelines for how quickly rape kits have to be tested and also established a statewide tracking system.
This year’s bill would require law enforcement to keep sexual assault testing kits for 55 years or until a sentence is complete. In death penalty cases kits would be kept until the sentence is carried out. In cases where there is no evidence to support that a crime was committed, kits would be kept for 10 years.
“We don’t want to just throw the kits away within the first few years just in case some information comes forward,” Kingsbury said.
There is no statute of limitations on rape in Idaho. The reason for such a seemingly long retention period of 55 years is that many rape cases involve young people who could conceivably be alive for many years after an attack, said Jennifer Landhuis, director of social change at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.
Some people, Landhuis said, report their rapes anonymously but change their minds and decide to come forward later, sometimes after the person who assaulted them is charged in another case.
“I never want victims to luck into a good response,” Landhuis said. “I want that consistency across the system.”
The number of serial rapists, Wintrow said, is higher than many people realize, another reason to preserve the evidence as long as possible. She told the committee about the work of a task force in the Cleveland area that tested thousands of older, untested rape kits, resulting in more than 500 indictments and more than 200 convictions so far.
“Most of those convictions came from 20-plus year cases,” she said.
Wintrow’s bill also specifies that rape victims can receive medical exams regardless of ability to pay, and says law enforcement should, if the victim requested it, contact the victim before destroying a rape kit, in cases where they have the victim’s contact information. It also says, if the victim requests, law enforcement is to notify them of any change in the status or reopening of the case.
Last year’s legislation was passed in the wake of reporting by the Idaho Press-Tribune showing wide inconsistency in the rates at which law enforcement agencies throughout the state submitted sexual assault kits to the Idaho State Police lab for testing. One of its provisions was that the state police would give a yearly report to the Legislature on its examination of rape kits over the preceding year.
ISP Forensic Services Director Matthew Gamette went over the results of the first audit with the committee. He said 1,422 rape kits had been tested or were in the process of being tested when the survey was completed in late December, and 1,116 hadn’t been. Of these, some were cases where assaults were reported anonymously, police had determined no crime had been committed or the victim had asked the kits not be tested. There are still 541 to be tested, he said, some by ISP and some by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.