Working to Ensure Justice for Sex Assault Victims
On March 20, 2017, Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2268 into law. The new law requires law enforcement to submit all sex assault kits to be tested for potential DNA evidence. It also lists timeframes ensuring prompt submission by law enforcement for DNA testing and requires annual reports by law enforcement accounting for each sex assault kit collected. HB 2268 becoming law is the culmination of nearly two years of work in Arizona, and represents just the beginning of ensuring that justice is delivered to all victims of sex assault.
Maricopa County’s Effort: A Timeline
In 2014, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) began working with our local law enforcement partners to determine how many sex assault kits remained untested and in the possession of law enforcement.
In early 2015, MCAO began seeking funding for the testing of previously untested sex assault kits. MCAO did this to ensure that every kit would be tested and then if a DNA profile was developed that profile would be entered into a national database of DNA profiles known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). CODIS holds known and unknown DNA profiles and is an incredible tool for law enforcement use to solve cases, particularly sex assault cases.
In October 2015, MCAO received a $1.9 million dollar grant from the District Attorney’s Office of New York to pay for testing of 2,300 untested sex assault kits. Before any testing could happen, it was determined that the untested sex assault kits would be tested by private laboratories.
MCAO executed contracts with three private DNA labs and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with local law enforcement agencies. Almost immediately after obtaining these agreements, law enforcement agencies began shipping previously untested kits for DNA testing.
After testing each kit for DNA, the private labs ship the kits back to the government laboratory. There, the technical work is reviewed and analyzed by scientists who upload appropriate profiles into CODIS.
Any time there is a profile match in CODIS, law enforcement is notified. At times, the match identifies a previously unidentified suspect, at other times; the profile remains unidentified or simply confirms the identity of a suspect the police already were aware of.
During 2015 and 2016, MCAO continued to work with law enforcement partners and ultimately identified over 4,000 untested kits that needed DNA testing.
In 2016 MCAO received an additional $1.4 million dollars from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to complete the DNA testing of the remaining sex assault kits not tested under the previous grant, and to hire an experienced sex crimes detective to work with our local law enforcement partners to follow up on the dozens of leads that resulted from the testing.
To date, MCAO has filed sex assault charges against five defendants identified early during this process. One defendant pled guilty and was sentenced to prison. The others are pending trial.