Sexual assault victims deserve justice and the public needs to be better protected from the people who commit such crimes, Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday as he signed a bill to ensure evidence kits are analyzed more quickly.
Snyder signed House Bill 5445, sponsored by state Rep. John Walsh. The bill, which creates the Sexual Assault Kit Evidence Submission Act, was approved unanimously in both the state House of Representatives and Senate. It is now Public Act 227 of 2014.
"Crime victims need to know that law enforcement agencies will respond quickly, with evidence analyzed in an urgent manner so police can find the people responsible for the crimes and bring them to justice," Snyder said. "This is about giving our residents peace of mind, and making Michigan a safer place."
The bill establishes time periods for sexual assault evidence collection kits to be retrieved by the investigating law enforcement agency, submitted to forensic laboratories and analyzed for forensic evidence.
"Prolonging justice for rape victims is inexcusable and in no situation should investigations be delayed," Walsh said. "Evidence kits not just in Wayne County but in every region of Michigan should be collected, submitted and processed in a timely manner because victims deserve full, thorough investigations and fitting communication from law enforcement."
Snyder signed the bill at the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Laboratory in Lansing, joined by Walsh; Attorney General Bill Schuette; MSP Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue; Debi Cain, the executive director of the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention & Treatment Board; and Mary Morrow, assistant prosecuting attorney and project director of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office Sexual Assault Kit Project.
"Critical DNA evidence from thousands of violent crimes against women was shelved for years, but today we are creating new safeguards to ensure it never happens again," Schuette said. "This legislation will strengthen victims' rights, improve our criminal justice system, and help take dangerous serial rapists off the streets."
The legislation comes after a 2009 discovery of more than 11,000 evidence collection kits in a Detroit Police Department storage facility. Those kits are now being tested by state and private authorities. More than 2,600 kits have been analyzed to date, with a special supplemental state appropriation in 2013 providing the needed resources to test the remaining kits -- expected to be completed in May of 2015.
Timely processing of evidence kits is paramount because rapists often go on to commit other crimes. Police can compare DNA samples from the kits with state and national databases."The Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Act is a monumental and powerful means of assuring sexual assault survivors in Michigan that they matter," Cain said. "This act guarantees victims who have released their sexual assault kit that this evidence will indeed be processed. It ensures both the victim and our entire community that DNA that may identify a sexual predator will be utilized to its fullest."
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has spearheaded efforts to process the discovered evidence collection kits, some of which are more than 20 years old. State and local law enforcement agencies have worked together to analyze the kits, create profiles of victims and perpetrators and determine whether cases could be adjudicated.
KC Steckelberg, director of public affairs for Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, and Herb Tanner, PAAM's domestic violence and sexual assault training attorney, have done a tremendous amount of work on the Detroit evidence kit project and also attended the bill signing.