NC rape-kit testing sees some progress

Attorney General wants lawmakers to change to some DNA collection laws

Attorney General Josh Stein briefs media from the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH — North Carolina holds the dubious distinction of leading the nation in untested rape kits, but a report by the state’s attorney general shows some progress in clearing the backlog.

Attorney General Josh Stein’s Dec. 10 press release states 2,169 kits have been tested and 4,739 are currently either with the vendor lab for testing or preparing to ship to the vendor.

From the 2,169 tested kits, 764 of them have been entered into the state and national DNA databases. Stein’s office says that 40% of the entered cases had a hit to a known person in the database or to another case.

“Continuing to test these kits is critical to promoting public safety in North Carolina,” said Stein in a press release. “Thanks to tested kits, law enforcement has made arrests in recent weeks solving violent crimes in Fayetteville, Wilmington, Durham, and other communities across the state.”

A September 2019 update by the N.C. Department of Justice indicated that 904 sexual assault kits had been tested “since January 2018.” In February of 2018, Stein confirmed that an inventory of kits conducted at the end of 2017 showed 15,160 untested sexual assault kits. That number matched the total listed at the beginning of 2017 by a rape-kit tracking website, EndTheBacklog.com.

In his release, Stein refers to two reports, the Statewide Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Tracking and Inventory Management System (STIMS) report and the Annual Crime Lab (ACL) report.

STIMS, which went active in October 2018, lists both certified inventory of newly collected kits and the previously untested kits. Across all agencies in the state, STIMS inventory lists 16,179 previously untested kits. The total of untested kits includes 1,296 “Anonymous or Unreported Kits,” which won’t be tested at this point per the Survivor Act.

The ACL report says that between October 2018 and September 2019, there were 830 new kits submitted to the State Crime Lab. Between the same time frames from 2019 to 2020, new submissions increased by 125% to 1,834.

“During the past year, case submissions have increased by 13.5% compared to FY 2018‐2019 and increased by 62% in the last five years,” the Annual State Crime Lab report says. That report also says new kit submissions to the State Crime Lab are more than double the previous year’s total.

The increase in submissions can partly be attributed to the Survivor Act, which requires that all kits collected from victims not wishing to remain anonymous be sent for testing. After implementation of the Survivor Act, the State Crime Lab has seen a 120% increase in submissions.

Citing increased demand nationwide, Stein says the price of testing kits has increased by “nearly 80 percent,” rising from $695 per kit to roughly $1,245 per kit.

Stein said they are “making progress,” but there is more work to do, requiring “additional funding and scientists.”

Stein said the legislature has not approved more funding to hire additional DNA scientists “despite this dramatic increase in case load.” The attorney general’s recommendations to help ease the case load include a one-time allotment to address outsourced testing of older kits and recurring funds for more scientists.

Attorney General Stein also announced that he is asking the General Assembly to update DNA collection requirements for individuals arrested for violent crime against a woman. Citing two recent arrests of decades-old alleged serial rapists in Fayetteville, Stein wants to have offender DNA collected and uploaded to the state DNA database.

“We know that sexual assault often starts with assault on a female,” Stein said. “By expanding the library of DNA in the database to include those arrested for violent crimes against women, we make it possible for law enforcement officers to solve more sexual assaults. This policy change will make our communities safer.”

About A.P. Dillon 409 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_