Rauner signs bill to establish sexual assault evidence tracking system
A new law to create a commission to develop a statewide system to track evidence in sexual assault cases could result in swifter justice for crime victims and increased accountability and transparency in the criminal justice system.
On Aug. 25, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a bill that creates the Sexual Assault Evidence Tracking and Reporting Commission with the objective of establishing a statewide system to track sexual assault evidence information.
State Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, filed House Bill 528, now Public Act 100-0336, to find ways to improve the processing and review of sexual assault evidence.
This law comes amid disturbing reports of evidence from sexual assaults and other crimes sitting on shelves as the cases languish. The Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2016 that Illinois police had more than 3,100 evidence kits from sexual assaults, murders and other crimes that had not been fully processed as of February 2016. One particularly egregious example occurred in Robbins, where Cook County investigators discovered 170 rape kits sitting with the local police department in 2013, according to the Chicago Tribune. While the police had sent many of the kits for processing, they had not followed up with active investigations. Cook County Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Cara Smith told the Tribune that some of the Robbins evidence kits “went unchecked for decades.” In some instances, investigators found the statutes of limitation had already run, and in others, the suspects connected to the evidence had died.
For the victims of these crimes, the cliché “justice delayed is justice denied” rings true.
Public Act 100-0336 aims to address the problems of evidence going untested in sexual assault cases and victims not knowing when or if the evidence from their cases will be processed.
The law calls for the creation of a 13-member commission, which will include four members of the General Assembly appointed by Senate and House majority and minority leaders, as well as the Illinois attorney general and members of Illinois’ law enforcement community, such as the director of the Illinois State Police and a representative of the state’s sheriffs. The commission will also include members of organizations that represent hospitals and that work against sexual assault.
The law provides that within one year of the commission’s initial meeting, the commission shall: (1) research options to create a tracking system and
develop guidelines and a plan to implement a uniform statewide system to track the location, lab submission status, completion of forensic testing, and storage of sexual assault evidence; (2) develop guidelines and a plan to implement a system with electronic access that allows victims to obtain information about the location, lab submission status, and storage of sexual assault evidence; (3) develop guidelines and a plan to safeguard confidentiality and limit disclosure of the information in the system; (4) recommend sources of public and private funding to implement the commission’s plans; (5) recommend changes to law or policy required for the implementation of the plans; and (6) report its findings and recommendations and any proposed legislation to the governor and General Assembly.
“With this law, … Illinois has made a positive step towards transparency and accountability in the testing process, which will help decrease the likelihood of error, lessen the evidence kit backlog, and bring more offenders to justice,” McDermed said in a statement on her website.