ATTORNEY GENERAL J.B. VAN HOLLEN ANNOUNCES PROTOCOL FOR UNTESTED SEXUAL ASSAULT KITS IN CUSTODY OF LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT

Dec 15 2014
ATTORNEY GENERAL J.B. VAN HOLLEN ANNOUNCES PROTOCOL FOR UNTESTED SEXUAL ASSAULT KITS IN CUSTODY OF LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT

 

MADISON — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is pleased to announce a new protocol to address more than 6,000 untested sexual assault kits residing in the custody of local law enforcement.  The new protocol is the result of work done by the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, which convened for the first time in December 2012.  (Click here for 2012 News Release.)

 

The AG’s SART was tasked with the following responsibilities:

 

  1. To ensure all sexual assault kits are created, distributed, used, collected and sent to the Wisconsin State Crime Lab in an efficient and expedient manner;
  2. To ensure the seamless payment of forensic exams in a manner that prevent victims from being billed in the process;
  3. To ensure the protocol and procedure of anonymous kit collection and testing;
  4. To provide a “best practices” model for sexual assault forensic kits and the billing of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exams;
  5. To identify other issues regarding SANE programs.

 

Since its inaugural meeting, the AG’s SART has developed a consent form and procedure for victims of sexual assault to receive a medical forensic exam with the collection of evidence but to have the evidence stored at the State Crime Laboratory for a period of six years while the victim decides whether to engage the services of law enforcement in the investigation of the assault. This allows victims time to work through the trauma of their assault while ensuring the collection of evidence in a timely manner.  This form, which represents a “best practices” recommendation of the AG’s SART, will be made available to victims at the time of the exam and explained either by an advocate or sexual assault nurse examiner.  It will be made available to advocates, sexual assault nurse examiners and hospital administrators in the coming weeks.  The Department of Justice through the Division of Law Enforcement Services will be supplying the kits at no cost to all law enforcement agencies, in addition to hospitals and medical facilities equipped to do forensic exams.

 

Why do agencies have untested sexual assault kits?

 

There exist a number of reasons why sexual assault kits may not have been forwarded to the Crime Lab and may reside with local agencies.  Some of those reasons include:

 

·         The case may have been resolved without the need to test the evidence in the kit;

·         Criminal justice professionals did not see the need for testing because the issue in the case was not identification;

·         The victim may have chosen not to participate in the criminal justice system;

·         Wisconsin s. 968.205 (2) requires law enforcement agencies to retain biological evidence until any person convicted of an offense has completed his or her term of incarceration and any period of extended supervised release, unless a number of post-conviction steps are taken to gain permission for destruction.  This may cause agencies to retain kits that, though untested, are connected to a conviction and are retained for very long periods of time until the full discharge of the defendant.

 

Regardless of the reasons above, Wisconsin has taken action to prioritize existing kits to ensure those that should be forwarded to the Wisconsin State Crime Lab are forwarded while respecting the rights of victims. 

 

“I commend members of the SART for their significant time and effort put forth in developing this important new protocol,” Attorney General Van Hollen said.  “It more compassionately addresses the needs of victims during a challenging time in their lives by informing them of their options and giving them time to decide, but it also ensures that kits that should be tested are indeed forwarded to the lab promptly for analysis, which in turn may help prevent future victimization,” Van Hollen said.

 

Which kits will be forwarded for testing?

 

The AG’s SART determined that some kits would not need to be tested, including kits being held as a result of section 968.205(2) of the Wisconsin statutes, and those kits being held for cases in which a “not guilty” verdict was rendered at trial.

 

In determining which kits should be sent to the lab for testing, the AG’s SART based its recommendations on the following criteria: cases that are charged and awaiting trial and cases within the Statute of Limitations because time is of the essence; cases with kits submitted after July 1, 2011, because sec. 175.405 of the Wisconsin statutes mandates testing in certain instances; whether or not the perpetrator has been identified; and whether the victim chose to participate in the criminal justice system.

 

The highest priority will be given to cases that have been charged and are awaiting trial, and cases in which the victim has chosen to participate in the criminal justice system but the perpetrator is unknown.  For cases in which victims have chosen not to report to law enforcement at the time of the exam, it is the committee’s recommendation that these kits not be tested unless the victim consents to testing where this is allowed under current law.

 

It was the consensus of the committee that submitting kits of victims who may not want their kits tested is unfair and unwise.  Victims who have had no desire to be part of the criminal justice system should not be forced to take part in a criminal case months or years after having been assaulted. The AG’s SART wanted to give victims the power to decide what would happen with their kits.  The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA) has agreed to develop a public service announcement campaign to alert sexual assault victims that they can have their kits sent to the WSCL should they choose to do so.

 

Background Information

 

In December of 2012, Attorney General Van Hollen announced the creation of the AG’s SART, which is composed of a multidisciplinary group of professionals knowledgeable in the complex issues surrounding sexual assault, with the purpose of improving access to, management of and payment for sexual assault forensic exams.  

 

Since taking office, Attorney General Van Hollen has made addressing the issue of sexual assault a priority, by cutting the average turnaround time at the Wisconsin State Crime Lab for the analysis of evidence in sexual assault cases; by hiring and promoting an Assistant Attorney General-Violence Against Women Resource Prosecutor (VAWRP), who specializes in training and prosecuting crimes against women, including sexual assaults; and, by hiring an Assistant Attorney General to serve as the Violence Against Women Law Enforcement Trainer, who provides training, education and technical assistance for law enforcement agencies and district attorneys statewide.  Finally, through the budget process, the Attorney General has advocated for more reliable and sufficient funding for the Sexual Assault Victim Services (SAVS) Program, which provides funding to sexual assault service providers in many Wisconsin communities.

 

 

Members of the SART were appointed by the Attorney General and include law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, advocates, sexual assault nurse examiners, hospital administrators and policy makers.