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Testing to Begin on Sexual Assault Evidence Kits

February 4, 2016 | Virginia News

Testing is part of a $1.4 million project led by Attorney General Herring's office to clear out a backlog of more than 2,000 untested sexual assault evidence kits

RICHMOND(February 4, 2016)-Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that his office and the Department of Forensic Science (DFS) are moving forward with plans to test more than 2,000 untested sexual assault evidence kits, also known as physical evidence recovery kits (PERKs), currently held by local law enforcement agencies. The Commonwealth has finalized a contract with Bode Cellmark Forensics to perform the testing at its Northern Virginia facility and the project steering committee held its first meeting on January 13 to develop and implement the plan for submitting kits. In the coming weeks, kits will be lifted from local agencies and shipped to the lab for testing with results expected in approximately 6-8 weeks. The first kits submitted for testing will come from Virginia Beach and Fairfax County. Some untested kits across the state date back to 1988.

"Testing these kits is so important to help identify predators and to make connections between unsolved crimes, but it's also really important to show survivors that the Commonwealth stands with them and will help them pursue justice as part of their healing process," said Attorney General Mark Herring. "I'm really glad we're getting the testing under way and I appreciate the hard work of my team, our steering committee, and our partners at DFS and in local law enforcement agencies. This is a big project, but we're going to see it through."

In September, Attorney General Herring secured a $1.4 million grant to test the Commonwealth's nearly 2,000 untested kits from 65 law enforcement agencies as part of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's $38 million initiative to test 56,000 PERKs in 20 states. By testing these kits and searching the profiles against DNA databases, law enforcement will be able to identify additional crimes by known perpetrators and make connections between crimes committed by unidentified perpetrators.

In the coming weeks, kits will be lifted from localities and submitted to the lab for testing on a rolling basis. Once kits are processed, results will be sent back to DFS for entry in a national DNA database and localities will be notified of any matches that may lead to a sexual assault suspect.

PERKs contain evidence collected from victims during an extensive examination conducted at a hospital or crisis center following a sexual assault. The DNA evidence contained in PERKs is a powerful tool for identifying suspects, convicting perpetrators, preventing future offenses, and even exonerating the innocent. DNA from a PERK in one jurisdiction may help to solve crimes in that jurisdiction or in other jurisdictions across the country.

Although state law allows local departments to destroy untested kits based on their evidence retention schedules, many local agencies elected to retain kits and the evidence they contained in hopes of one day testing the kits and building a case.

The PERK testing project is part of Attorney General Herring's ongoing efforts to support survivors of sexual violence and to gather more useful data to learn more about these crimes and how to prevent them.

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