A bill to force the state to analyze more than 10,000 untested sexual assault kits that have languished in police evidence rooms throughout the state for years passed its first committee in the Florida House on Tuesday.
Under the bill by state Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would be required to create a plan by October 2016 to test all the kits by June 2017.
In early November, FDLE confirmed for the first time there are more than 10,000 untested kits throughout the state — and they're not done counting. By Jan. 1, the agency will make public the full number as part of a $300,000 survey to identify just how big the backlog is. Up until recently, the problem was only estimated as being in the "thousands."
Why kits stay on shelves for years — even decades — has long been debated. FDLE officials have said some legitimate reasons could have included victims no longer wanting an investigation to continue, a case is not being pursued by prosecutors or a suspect has already pled guilty. And technology is a big reason. Many kits have been on shelves for 25 years, before DNA analysis became as sophisticated as it is today.
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But law enforcement officials, including Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, have been pushing the state to analyze the untested kits to recover evidence that could help solve other crimes or identify serial rapists.
Adkins told the House Criminal Justice Committee that other cities and states have tested older kits and solved other crimes. Specifically she pointed to Detroit where testing of 8,700 sexual assault kits and helped identify 188 serial offenders.
But testing the kits is a financial problem for the state. With a state crime lab already struggling to keep up with current caseloads, FDLE officials have said they do not have to staff to handle the 10,000 kits if they were suddenly to come into their labs. It would cost the agency and estimated $9 million to outsource all of the kits to be tested, FDLE officials told a Senate committee in early November.
Adkins bill still has two more committee stops in the Florida House, while a similar Senate bill has yet to be heard in any committees.