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Senate approves bills to help sexual assault victims

Staff report

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate on Monday passed two bills that their lead sponsor, a senator from Cabell County, said will systematically improve sexual assault victims’ chances of finding justice.

Both of the bills – Senate Bill 69, creating the Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights; and Senate Bill 167, relating to DNA evidence – were approved by 34-0 margins in the Senate.

Both bills will advance to the House for consideration.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, is the lead sponsor of both bills.

Senate Bill 167 would require the state’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission to create a subcommittee to establish protocols and propose laws regarding processing of rape kits.

Woelfel said it takes an average of 460 days between the day evidence is collected in a rape kit and the day the kit is processed and returned to law enforcement for practical use in a criminal case.

The subcommittee would be tasked with establishing time, processing, testing and storage standards for rape kits.

The West Virginia State Police superintendent would be charged with establishing a protocol for officers to collect the DNA samples.

The proposals by the state police superintendent and the subcommittee would be subject to approval by the Legislature.

All DNA samples in the state would be tested by the West Virginia State Police Crime Lab, the Marshall University Forensic Science Center or any ANAB accredited labs in West Virginia.

The bill also creates standards for storing the DNA samples, regardless of whether a police report is filed in the case.

Upon arrest, a person who is 18 years old or older would be required to give a DNA sample via cheek swab as a part of the intake process, along with other measures like having fingerprints taken. The bill also establishes standards for DNA data to be removed from DNA data records in certain instances and legal proceedings

Senate Bill 69 establishes the Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights.

It provides sexual assault victims the right to a personal representative to accompany them to the hospital, court proceedings, and police and prosecution interviews.

The bill would establish in state code sexual assault victims’ rights to receive a forensic medical exam and creation of a rape kit, have the rape kit tested and preserved and to be informed by the investigating law enforcement agency of any results from the exam as long as it doesn’t compromise an ongoing investigation.

The bill also would codify sexual assault victims’ rights to have in writing the policies that govern forensic medical examinations and preservation of evidence obtained from them, and it would give them some ability to track down their rape kits.

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