House passes Edwards bill requiring crime lab to audit DNA samples from rape kits


STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives today passed legislation introduced by Majority Floor Manager John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) that requires an audit of DNA samples that have been collected by law enforcement rape kits.

In the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault, a survivor may choose to undergo a forensic medical examination to collect any evidence left behind in the assault. A doctor or nurse conducts the examination, and preserves the evidence in a sexual assault evidence collection kit, commonly referred to as a rape kit. If a survivor chooses to report the rape to the police, the evidence in the rape kit can be one very powerful tool to bring a perpetrator to justice.

The legislation (2023-H 5435A) would require the state crime laboratory to conduct an audit of DNA samples in the DNA databank to ascertain the rate of compliance with recording requirements.

“Rape victims endure not only the brutality of sexual assault, but the indignity of a four- to six-hour procedure that basically treats their body as a crime scene,” said Representative Edwards. “Victims need to have that evidence protected and preserved, and this bill will ensure that the law is being upheld by the agencies responsible for storing and maintaining that evidence.”

Representative Edwards credits the Joyful Heart Foundation with its efforts at crafting and advocating for this and other related legislation. Since 2004, Joyful Heart has been a leading national organization with a mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and support survivors’ healing.

The bill comes in the wake of a law (R.I. General Laws Chapter 23-98) sponsored by Representative Edwards and enacted last year that requires any entity that receives, maintains, stores or preserves sexual assault evidence kits to submit a report to the Department of Health annually, setting forth the total number of untested kits in possession of such entity. The law also provides victims of sexual assault offenses with certain rights pertaining to the sexual assault evidence kit and direct the attorney general, in consultation with victim advocacy organizations, to promulgate and publish a sexual assault victim’s bill or rights.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation (2023-S 0630) has been introduced by Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).