Back in September, federal officials indicated that roughly 70,000 sexual assault kits — an invaluable tool used in proving both guilt and innocence — have gone untested, gathering dust on the shelves of evidence rooms and crime laboratories across the nation.
In response, these officials indicated that close to $80 million in funding would be allocated with the goal of reducing this truly astounding backlog of DNA evidence across 27 states.
As truly shocking as this story was, consider last week’s release of a spreadsheet compiled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
What did the spreadsheet find?
The FDLE, which is in the midst of conducting a $300,000 study examining untested sexual assault kits in the state, revealed on its online spreadsheet that the number of untested kits currently sits at 10,900 across 262 state agencies.
Indeed, the agency indicates that these are only preliminary figures and that the final number could end up being higher given that seven state law enforcement agencies have yet to report any data.
Why is this number so high?
In a recent appearance before state lawmakers, FDLE officials indicated that some of the reasons as to why these kits have gone untested include victims declining to report the matter to law enforcement officials, prosecutors declining to press charges or suspects already being in custody.
For her part, Attorney General Pam Bondi has indicated that a lack of funds is also to blame, as potentially millions of dollars is needed to cover the costs of hiring additional DNA analysts for the state crime lab and for processing the kits, which can average $800-$1,000 per unit. Indeed, the FDLE has already asked the state for $35 million in aid.
Are state lawmakers taking any steps?
While several senators have classified the reasons behind the delay as “reasonable,” at least one has called for more definitive action to be taken.
Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers) has introduced legislation, to be considered during the 2016 session, which will seek to hasten the testing of the state’s sexual assault kits.
Here’s hoping that we see lawmakers make this expedited testing a priority during the next term, as doing so will not only help provide victims with a sense of justice, but also help wrongfully incarcerated individuals prove their innocence.
If you are under investigation or have been arrested for any sort of sex offense, please consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible as your freedom, your reputation and your future are all at stake.