Simply put, for many years Ohio had an unacceptable backlog of untested sexual assault kits, including some dating back to the early 1990s. For victims of those heinous crimes, bureaucracy and a lack of cooperation between state and local authorities had denied them justice. Such failures also left perpetrators on the streets, where many of them could attack again.
In 2011, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (“BCI”) began working with local law enforcement agencies to get rid of this backlog. Since that time, 149 different law enforcement agencies from across the state have submitted more than 9,000 kits for testing. Just last month, DeWine announced that of the 6,275 kits already tested as part of this initiative, BCI has found 2,369 matches to the state’s Combined DNA Index System. Thus, the initiative has connected more than one third of the kits tested with a possible suspect. These have resulted in hundreds of indictments, including 245 indictments against suspected rapists in Cuyahoga County.
The efforts of the Attorney General and BCI are commendable. We must make sure, however, that the backlog is fully dealt with. All backlogged kits must be tested – the victims of these crimes deserve nothing less. The state must also make sure that, moving forward, kits are tested in a timely manner and victims do not spend years or decades waiting for justice. That is why I co-sponsored Senate Bill 316, which was signed into law late last year. SB 316 requires all law enforcement agencies to submit backlogged sexual assault evidence to BCI within one year. For new cases, law enforcement officials must submit any evidence collected within 30 days.
The state must also make sure that rapists cannot escape justice merely by the passage of time. As mentioned above, the backlog of DNA kits runs back to the early 1990s. With a 20-year statute of limitations, that means that some suspects could evade indictment, even if BCI gets a DNA match. The legislature is working right now to fix this problem. Senate Bill 13, if enacted, will toll the statute of limitations in cases where DNA evidence is used, effectively extending the period for prosecutors to bring charges if there is a DNA match.
In addition to the efforts mentioned above, over the past two years the Ohio Senate has also passed bills to protect Ohio’s children from predators and to significantly strengthen penalties against human trafficking and related offenses.
As your State Senator, I am committed to protecting our communities from violent crime and giving law enforcement the tools they need to fulfill that mission. The legislature’s recent efforts, and those of Attorney General Mike DeWine, are an important step in the right direction. My colleagues and I will continue to build on those efforts to ensure that our families and communities are safe.