Nearly 450 sexual assault kits remain untested in Arkansas
LITTLE ROCK (KATV) —
The Arkansas State Crime Lab is facing a backlog of just under 450 sexual assault kits that have yet to be processed for DNA. And if it gets worse, there's potential it could interfere with the court process.
To get these kits tested and reports sent back to law enforcement is one of the biggest pieces of the investigation puzzle when it comes to sexual assaults. "The critical thing is that we're able to test these sexual assault kits and get a laboratory report back to law enforcement to try either solve a case or help adjudicate an individual who might be wrongly accused of committing a crime," said Kermit Channell, executive director for the Arkansas State Crime Lab.
The goal is to get that report back in 60 days. But right now, with the backlog of almost 450 kits untested, it now takes somewhere between 5-6 months.
Channell says it is partly due to previous staffing issues and the time it took to process 1,300 old kits that were recovered back in 2015. He added, "These were kits that were sitting in law enforcement's hands that were never submitted to the laboratory. And they might not have been submitted to the laboratory for good investigative reasons."
They finished processing them late last year. So now, the DNA analysts are playing catch-up in hopes of not getting to the point where they interfere with the right to a speedy trial. Channell said, "I wish I could give you a concrete answer and say, you know, in 60 days, we're going to be there. But I really can't because it does ebb and flow. The good thing is, is that we're fully staffed now. We're fully trained and we're chipping away at that backlog." And if an investigation is critical enough, the crime lab has the authority to bump up the processing of a kit with the request from a lawyer.
There's also a new system in place to track these kits. Both the state crime lab and victims of sexual assault are able to get online and see where their kit is in the process, so they are aware of any potential issues.