Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Implementation update on reform bills: Rape-kit backlogs, eyewitness ID

Grits has been meaning to point out a pair of recent MSM stories documenting implementation of two reform bills that grew out of debates surrounding Texas DNA exonerations:

Rape kit backlogs documented, but not necessarily tested
First, from the Austin Statesman, see "Lack of funding leads to backlog of untested rape kits" (May 21). Central Texas agencies seem to have lower backlog levels than Dallas, Houston or San Antonio. Reported Jazmine Ulloa:
A state law that went into effect in September aims to audit and eventually develop the resources to examine the cache, stipulating that all law enforcement agencies must report untested rape kits to the Texas Department of Public Safety. DPS officials said the department also is collecting only a limited number of kits and processing them through grants.

But not all agencies have submitted their data to DPS. And some law enforcement authorities and forensic experts question the statutory guidelines that outline what sexual assault cases need to be reported, saying they are too broad, do not take into account investigative work and might require them to provide information on untested rape kits that do not need to undergo the costly examination.

Though DPS does not charge law enforcement agencies to evaluate the evidence, the safety department can spend up to $800 on each kit it analyzes, depending on the tests it conducts. At a private lab, the analyses for a box with several items plus a comparison with a suspect profile can run more than $5,000, authorities said. About 100 Texas agencies have reported more than 12,700 untested kits, DPS officials said.
Most agencies have not yet reported their backlog numbers, including some of the larger ones.

TX law enforcement must implement eyewitness ID policies by Sept. 1
Meanwhile, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had a story recently by Yamil Berard ("New Texas law aims to reduce mistaken IDs in criminal cases," May 21) discussing implementation of new eyewitness ID reform legislation:
In Texas, which is third in the nation in the number of exonerations, 84 percent of DNA exonerations came in cases in which witnesses had made false identifications.

Now, flaws in eyewitness identification procedures are taking center stage as the deadline approaches for Texas law enforcement agencies to comply with reforms to state law.

As of Sept. 1, the agencies must adopt methods to ensure the reliability of their procedures for eyewitness identifications, as part of House Bill 215. The Legislature approved the measure last year in memory of Tim Cole, the Texas Tech University student from Fort Worth who died in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of rape based on a false ID.
At the Innocence Project of Texas where I work, we're planning a research project after local policies are in place this fall in which we will acquire police and Sheriff's eyewitness ID polices under the Public Information Act and assess their adherence to core  principles underlying the "model policy" under the statute. Once that happens, we'll have a better idea which departments are open to improving their methods and which ones will be digging in their heels.

Read more here:

1 comment:

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