Southwest Missouri Made National News for Destruction of Evidence in Sexual Assault Cases
In recent years, Springfield Police made national news when it was uncovered that 108 rape kits were destroyed before the statute of limitations expired. Seventy-five percent of those kits were never submitted to the lab for DNA testing.
Springfield Police stood out from other agencies for the variety and volume of investigative shortcomings that led to kit destruction and how quickly rape kits were destroyed. Dozens were destroyed in a year or less after the alleged victims reported the assault.
Springfield Police imposed so-called “10 Day Deadlines” on alleged victims shortly after their report. If the alleged victim did not respond in time, then the case was closed and the kit destroyed while the prosecutions were still viable. Click here for more details.
In Response, Missouri Lawmakers Attempt to Pass Controversial Bill
In response to the public outrage, Missouri lawmakers drafted a bill that claim to streamline rape kit testing processes to avoid further backlogs.
The Senate bill would also establish a “Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights.”
Several in the Springfield area are supportive of the bill. Amy Bartel, Executive Director of The Victim Center in Springfield, lauds the bill as “Send[ing] a message that this is not okay, we want to fix this and make this better.”
Brooke Batesel, a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) for CoxHealth in Springfield, states that “Sexual assault is an extremely, extremely traumatizing experience.” She explains that there are only a handful of certified nurses like her across the state.
“Victim’s Rights” Must Bend Their Knees to a Defendant’s Constitutional Rights
Because access to these certified nurses is limited, the bill provides for access to Telehealth services for parts of Southwest Missouri, which would allow the patient and the certified sexual assault nurse examiner to connect via a computer screen. The sexual assault nurse examiner guides the bedside nurse at the location through the injury documentation throughout the exam.
This presents unique problems for the criminal defendant. For instance, nurses and other medical professionals are frequently subpoenaed to court to testify about the alleged victim’s injuries, if there are any. Permitting an unqualified nurse to conduct the exam without the certified nurse in the room is a big issue. The qualified nurse who is not present in the room may not be able to accurately see or document the alleged victim’s injuries or be able to accurately date when they believe that the injuries may have occurred.
Moreover , any “victim’s rights” should bow their knees to the constitutional rights of a citizen accused. There are many provisions of the bill that would infringe on the accused’s constitutional rights.
One of the biggest infringements is that the bill would mandate that sexual assault forensic evidence “shall be admissible in any criminal or civil proceeding against the defendant or person accused.” Automatically. The evidence is automatically admissible against a criminal defendant regardless of whether the examination met standards imposed by evidentiary rules and without regard as to whether the examination was conducted in accordance with the policies and procedures.
Even at the surface, the use of the phrase “victim” is not permitted in a criminal trial. Whether the complaining witness is a “victim” is the ultimate issue before the jury. Thus, Missouri courts do not permit the use of the phrase “victim” in trial. The bill’s repeated use of the phrase “sexual assault survivor” is the ultimate conclusion that the alleged victim’s accusations are true. The bill defines the phrase “sexual assault survivor” as “any person who is a victim of an alleged sexual offense.”
Now that the Missouri Senate has unanimously passed the bill, the next step is for the House to consider and vote on the bill. If the House approves the bill, then it will go to the Missouri Governor’s desk for signing.
It will be interesting to see what will come of this bill. If you or a loved one is accused of a crime of a sexual nature, contact our office. Our attorneys are trained and experienced at defending sex crimes.