CHARLESTON – Senator Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, today thanked Governor Jim Justice for signing Senate Bill 36, which intends to reduce the processing time of DNA lab tests, especially in cases of sexual assault.
The bill would allow the West Virginia State Police to contract with the Marshall University Forensic Science Center to process lab work related to the testing of offender samples for the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and DNA testing in criminal paternity cases, criminal casework, and identification of human remains. It also sets out parameters by which law enforcement and correctional officers can use reasonable force to obtain DNA samples, and allows for the collection of non-blood sampling of DNA (mouth swabs).
In addition, the bill creates the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission, which will establish a group of subject matter experts to outline best practices for the submission, retention, and disposition of sexual assault forensic examination kits that are collected by health care providers. The Commission will develop legislative rules that will determine time frames for submission of rape kits in the possession of law enforcement and protocol for the storage of rape kits and DNA samples.
“The average waiting time for the testing of a rape kit is 440 days, which is just terrible and unacceptable,” Senator Woelfel said. “That’s more than a year for these victims to wait for their attackers to be brought to justice. It’s my hope with this bill going into law in June, we’ll start reducing this backlog, and we can bring these victims the quick justice they so desperately deserve.”
Senator Woelfel said signing this bill is a major step forward for the rights of sexual assault victims throughout the state.
“Rape is such a truly violent and horrible crime, and it changes the victim’s life forever,” Senator Woelfel said. “Signing this bill into law is one way we, as a state, can recognize that we honor these victims and we will do everything we can to accommodate them.”
Senator Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, was a co-sponsor of the bill. It goes into effect June 5.