Senate Advances Bill to Preserve Evidence for Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault

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Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) announced that the Senate took action to advance legislation that would establish uniform protocol and procedures for tracking, transporting, and collecting sexual assault evidence. Importantly, the bill would also extend the length of time that sexual assault kits are required to be retained for evidentiary purposes.

The original bill, filed by Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield), was co-sponsored by several dozen legislators, including Senator Moore, and has received support from sexual assault prevention organizations, survivor advocacy groups and a variety of public officials including former Attorney General Martha Coakley.

“Many survivors of sexual assault are not in a position to come forward or seek justice right away,” said Senator Moore. “Aside from establishing uniform procedures for the handling and storage of these kits, the bill also ensures that the potential evidence is readily available and that the integrity of the materials is preserved for the full length of the statutory period.”

Currently, sexual assault kits are required to be kept for six months after which discretion is given to the retaining agency to either store or destroy the evidence if formal charges have not been filed. The bill would extend the required storage of sexual assault kits until the statute of limitations expires which, in Massachusetts, is currently fifteen years.

The bill also directs the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to develop a uniform protocol for transportation of sexual assault kits from hospitals to testing facilities. Hospitals would be required to inform rape or sexual assault survivors that the evidence will be retained until the statute of limitations expires. Moreover, the legislation requires appropriate emergency department personnel to receive training on treatment and examination of sexual assault victims.

The legislation was engrossed by the House of Representatives in early August. Today, the Senate adopted an amendment to the House version of the bill offered by Senator Moore.

The Moore-sponsored amendment would enable a governmental entity, such as a local police department, that is unable to meet the fifteen-year retention requirement to request a waiver from the Forensic Sciences Advisory Board. Waivers would be granted if a governmental entity lacks the capacity or fulltime personnel to ensure proper retention or preservation of evidence. If the waiver is granted, the forensic evidence would then be held by the state’s crime laboratory.

The version of the bill approved by the Senate will now return to the House for approval. To continue tracking the status of the legislation, H.4364, please visit the Legislature’s website, http://www.malegislature.gov.

About Jennifer Doyle

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