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6/27/2023 New law requires crime lab to audit DNA databank for missing offender profiles
STATE HOUSE — The state crime lab will audit the DNA databank to determine how many offender profiles it is missing under a new law introduced by Majority Floor Manager John G. Edwards and Sen. Melissa A. Murray that was signed by Gov. Dan McKee this week.

The databank is used to search previously collected profiles for matches with DNA collected at crimes scenes to identify potential suspects. State law requires offenders convicted of violent crimes to submit DNA samples for entry into the databank.

But due to loopholes in the justice system, many offenders’ samples are never submitted.

The legislation (2023-H 5435A, 2023-S 0630A), which was passed by the General Assembly June 15, requires the state crime laboratory to conduct an audit of DNA samples in the databank to determine the number of DNA profiles that should have been entered in the databank but haven’t been.

“The databank can only find matches for the DNA of those who have been entered into it. Survivors of sexual assault and the families of murder victims deserve nothing less than a databank that includes all the profiles it is supposed to have, raising the chances that it could identify a match and provide them some measure of justice,” said Representative Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton).

Said Senator Murray (D-Dist. 24 Woonsocket, North Smithfield), “It takes incredible courage to report sexual assault and submit a rape kit, which is an extremely invasive, hours-long process that retraumatizes survivors. For a survivor to undergo that process and then miss the chance to identify their attacker because of noncompliance with the DNA submission requirement is an indescribably grave injustice done to someone who has already suffered so much. An audit will help get a handle on how big the issue of noncompliance is, so we can take the steps we need to address it.”

Under the legislation, the crime lab shall issue a preliminary report to the General Assembly with the overall number of estimated owed DNA samples within 90 days of enactment of the law, which took effect upon its signature by the governor.

A final report that provides additional details on types of offenses for which DNA samples are owed and an overview of where collection failures occurred is to be submitted by Dec. 15. Thereafter, an annual audit shall be completed and reported to lawmakers by Dec. 15 of every year.

The 2024 state budget approved by lawmakers June 15 funds a new forensic scientist position in the Department of Health to ensure that DNA samples are collected efficiently at court immediately after a conviction.

The bill comes one year after the enactment of a law (R.I. General Laws Chapter 23-98) that was sponsored by Representative Edwards and Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence) requiring any entity that receives, maintains, stores or preserves sexual assault evidence kits to submit a report to the Department of Health annually, setting forth the total number of untested kits in possession of such entity. The law also provides victims of sexual assault offenses with certain rights pertaining to the sexual assault evidence kit and direct the attorney general, in consultation with victim advocacy organizations, to promulgate and publish a sexual assault victim’s bill or rights.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923