Nevada lawmakers approve funds to test backlogged rape kits
The legislative Interim Finance Committee on Wednesday approved using $3.68 million in federal and civil settlement money to begin testing the state’s huge backlog of untested rape kits.
The kits contain DNA samples from more than 7,500 alleged rape cases as far back as 35 years. That evidence is collected at hospitals following a reported rape but those kits have never been submitted for testing, in part because of the cost that can reach $1,500 to test each kit.
A total of $1.7 million of the cash comes from JP Morgan Chase as Nevada’s share of a deceptive trade practices settlement. Assistant Attorney General Wes Duncan said some $1.3 million would allow testing of more than 2,000 of those kits in Southern Nevada. The remaining $414,000 will be used to test kits in Northern Nevada including Douglas County.
He said the state is negotiating to reduce the cost per test to $600 to make the money go farther.
“We really believe we’re going to be able to get through most of the untested kits in the state with that,” Duncan said.
“Beginning early next year, this state will send kits out for testing so that law enforcement agents can prosecute sexual predators and help secure justice for survivors,” said Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
But Laxalt said, in response to a question, that the approval they are seeking would essentially let his office decide how to spend the money. There have been some concerns that more accountability and controls should be put on the money so lawmakers and the state can see how it is spent.
Asked why the kits weren’t tested in the first place and the backlog allowed to grow, Laxalt said the expense was one reason along with “prioritization.” He said prosecutors made judgments depending on which cases they thought could best move forward in court and in consideration of whether the victim wanted to move forward.
“We’ve turned the corner on that,” he said adding that now, all those kits should be tested and future kits tested timely.
The rest of the money is $1.98 million from the federal Sexual Assault Kit initiative to recipients with inventorying and reducing the backlog of sex assault kits. That money will be granted to police agencies, rape crisis centers and other sub-grantees. The purpose is to support projects including victim services and programs addressing domestic, sexual or date violence and stalking.
Law enforcement agencies will be charged with outsourcing those untested kits to appropriate forensic labs for testing and work in connection with the settlement funds to eliminate the backlog.
Some of the funding will be used to test some 2,900 kits in Southern Nevada.
Duncan said a similar program in the Cleveland, Ohio, area generated about 100 criminal cases in the first 1,000 kits tested.
“I think we’re going to find the numbers are going to be pretty astounding,” he said.
He said people who commit those acts will be brought to justice in Nevada.
Asked if the statute of limitations, originally three years but now 20 years, would prevent prosecution in many of those cases, Duncan said no, that as long as a rape report was filed with police, that statute of limitations no longer applies and the rapist can be tried and convicted.