Speeding Justice For Crime Victims

State legislators are taking an important step toward doing right by West Virginia crime victims waiting for the results of tests that would normally be conducted by the State Police Crime Lab. They have approved a bill that would authorize use of outside contractors for criminal identification, including rape kits.

Marshall University’s Forensic Science Center would get the first opportunity to do that work. The bill moving through the Legislature also authorizes the state’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission to establish timelines for handling rape kits collected by health care providers.

In addition, the measure allows correctional authorities to use “reasonable force” to get DNA samples from felons who decline to provide saliva swabs. The improvement of the state database is an important part of this change.

According to one lawmaker, it now takes an average of 440 days for a rape kit to be processed in West Virginia. That is more than 14 months during which a rapist could be left free to harm more victims — or to escalate criminal behavior. That is an injustice both to those who have already become victims and to those who have not yet been targeted.

Kudos to lawmakers who understand the need to seek outside help in both protecting Mountain State residents and getting justice for crime victims.