Sexual assault kits

Jeff Carl, director of the emergency department, holds a sexual assault kit Jan. 26, 2018, at St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls. Each kit is sealed to prevent tampering.

BOISE — A bill crafted with the support of a Magic Valley police chief could ensure nearly all sexual assault kits collected in Idaho are tested.

The legislation brought by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise, would tweak sexual assault kit laws passed in 2016 to require that all kits be processed, with the exception of cases where there is evidence that the assault claim was unfounded. The bill will be heard on the House floor after passing through the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee on a unanimous vote Wednesday.

Wintrow and other supporters of House Bill 116, including Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury, say making sure all kits are tested up front could help identify serial offenders and provide a safety net for victims who choose not to pursue charges at first but may change their minds down the road. It’s the latest effort in a push to reform Idaho’s standards for the processing of sexual assault kits; the bill follows a series of laws passed in recent legislative sessions, including laws requiring law enforcement agencies to submit kits for testing within 30 days and to keep kits as evidence for longer periods of time.

“We’ve seen some great improvements all throughout our state since 2016,” Kingsbury told the Times-News. “The hope from this amendment is that it will just make it simpler for law enforcement and will move us as close as we can to a test-all-kit state.”

A total of 78 sexual assault kits collected across the state went untested in 2018, 23 of which weren’t tested because the victim chose not to move forward with the processing, according to an Idaho State Police report. Two of those 23 kits were collected by the Gooding County Sheriff’s Office.

Those 23 kits would all be tested under Wintrow’s bill, which removes language in the 2016 law that provided a testing exemption for adult victims who indicate that they do not want their kits tested. There is still an exemption in the new bill, however, for situations where the victim requests the kit be collected anonymously, in accordance with the federal Violence Against Women Act

One sexual assault kit collected by the Twin Falls Police Department was not tested in 2018, but not because the victim opted out. The kit was not processed because there was no evidence to support a crime being committed, according to the ISP report.

Testing as many kits as possible could help identify serial offenders whose DNA is a match for other assaults, Wintrow noted — and, she suggested, knowing they aren’t alone could encourage a victim to assist law enforcement and prosecutors in building their case.

“That could be an empowering moment for somebody to say, ‘Oh boy, it’s not just me and I do want to do something about that,’” Wintrow said.

Twin Falls Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs told the Times-News he would be glad to see the opt-out option for victims removed from the law, describing the legislation as “a big step forward” for the state.

“I’m very supportive of all kits being tested,” Loebs said. “The more evidence we can get, the better. I think it’s a great idea.”

The bill was met with unanimous bipartisan support from the majority-Republican committee, with no lawmakers voting or speaking against the proposal.

“We don’t necessarily agree on every issue, but I think this is an issue we can all agree upon,” said Rep. Paul Amador, a Republican from Coeur d’Alene.

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