Pending bills would establish timeline for processing rape kits and update the definition within the law

Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 7:29 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - You don’t want accused rapists out on the streets. But a backlog in rape kits could be slowing down the process to bring them to justice.

“Mississippi has a backlog, but it’s not at the crime lab,’ described Sandy Middleton, Center for Violence Prevention Director. “Typically, the kits are either sitting in a hospital emergency room refrigerator, or they’re sitting in the trunk of a law enforcement investigator, or, you know, there’s somewhere where they’re not being tested.”

House Bill 485 would change that. It would set up a required timeline. The medical facility would have to call law enforcement within 4 hours of performing the exam.

Law enforcement would have to pick up the kit within 24 hours. And then deliver it to the crime lab no later than 7 days from that. And finally, they’re proposing to require the crime lab to test the kit within 45 days.

“That’s huge,” noted nurse practitioner Beth McCord, Bridge Forensic Clinic. “A lot of times, you know, victims will kind of stop the process with law enforcement because they feel like it’s a lost cause. They don’t know where their kit is. They don’t have any results. They don’t know what’s going on.”

A national group that tracks rape kit backlogs notes that rapists are often committing more crimes, so you don’t want them out on the streets. But that’s where they could be if the system doesn’t change.

“The other day, I had a call from law enforcement at an area hospital, who was like help,” said Middelton. “I’ve got 50 kits here in my refrigerator, and some of them have been there for a year and a half.”

And we’re not just talking about adults. 15 of those kits were done on minors. The other ask is for the definition of rape to be updated.

“From 2019, 2020, and 2021...over those three years in the entire state of Mississippi, only 20 rapes were prosecuted in the whole state of Mississippi,” noted Middelton.

They’ve found that prosecutors are more frequently using the sexual battery law and House Bill 995 would update the rape definition, allowing for harsher penalties.

We checked with the chairmen of the Senate committees to which these bills have been referred. Sen. Brice Wiggins tells us he expects the rape kit timeline bill to be on the committee agenda on Thursday.

As for the rape definition, Sen. Joey Fillingane tells us they are looking at it and haven’t made any decisions yet. The deadline for those to move out of the committee is next Tuesday, February 28.

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