The Montana Department of Justice is rolling out a new statewide system for tracking sexual assault evidence kits. The creation of the online platform follows a report that more than 1,000 evidence kits — some decades old — were sitting untested in law enforcement evidence lockers and refrigerators.
The new system will allow victims to track their evidence — sometimes called rape kits — from health care facility to law enforcement, testing, and storage. It’s scheduled to go online Sunday.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says, "Going forward we knew that we couldn’t go back to a system where kits accumulated, that they went untested, the victims and survivors didn’t know where things were in the system and didn’t know what was going on."
Over the last three years the Justice Department and a special task force studied the backlog of untested kits and pushed forward a bill to organize how the evidence is handled. Senate Bill 52, passed unanimously during the 2019 session, also outlines victims' rights in the processing of sexual assault evidence.
After the state learned of the backlog of evidence, Montana officials applied for and received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to pay for the cataloging and testing of sexual assault evidence kits.
The federal government, at the time, had recently created a grant program to deal with the rising issue of backlogged sexual assault evidence kits around the country.
Fox says Montana has worked through its kit backlog and is running the evidence through a national DNA database.
"There’s been about 120 of the kits that have actually matched some other DNA analysis report," he says.
The Montana bill which created the evidence tracking system was requested by the state justice department. The bill also requires local law enforcement to submit evidence for forensic testing within 30 days.