September 30, 2018
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown signed one bill and rejected another Sunday that sexual assault survivors have long sought in hopes of forcing California law enforcement agencies to account for backlogged rape kits.
Brown signed AB3118 by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, which requires law enforcement agencies and labs to tell the state Justice Department how many rape kits — evidence collected after a sexual assault — they have in their possession. The bill requires that the backlog be tallied and reported by July 1, 2019.
However, he vetoed another priority bill for victim advocates, SB1449 by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino (San Bernardino County). That bill would have required that rape kits be sent to a lab within 20 days, and that labs complete their analyses within 120 days. Those timelines are recommended in state law but are not required.
Brown said such a requirement should wait until the the audit ordered under Chiu's bill is complete, and until the state Justice Department works to reduce the backlogs using $7.5 million set aside in the current budget.
"I would like to allow time for this year's legislative actions to take effect so we can gauge the appropriate next steps and budget accordingly," Brown wrote in his veto message.
Leyva said she was "angry and disappointed" with Brown's decision and would reintroduce the bill next year when the termed-out governor is out of office. Her bill passed the Legislature unanimously.
"I am as motivated now as ever to make sure that all newly collected rape kits are promptly tested in California," Leyva said. "I have spoken to many rape survivors, survivor advocates, law enforcement leaders, and residents across our state who firmly agree that we must require the swift testing of all new rape kits. Though today may be a bump in the road, I commit to staying the course until we can fully ensure justice for survivors."
The bills represented an attempt by state lawmakers to increase law enforcement's attention to rape kits. The kits, consisting of potential DNA gained from medical examinations of women and evidence at crime scenes, have long been seen as useful in solving stranger assaults. However, police often shelved them when they knew a suspect's identity and a rape case hinged on whether the alleged victim consented to sex.
That led to hundreds of thousands of rape kits sitting in evidence storage rooms. Armed with grant funding and a new understanding of the power that rape kits have in identifying serial offenders, jurisdictions have been clearing their untested kits over the past four years.
"The rape kit backlog is an embarrassment," Chiu said. "I am happy Gov. Brown saw the dire need to understand the extent of the rape kit backlog in California so we can address the issue. Given the current national conversation around sexual assault, it is more important now than ever that survivors of sexual assault know that California is working to get them the justice they deserve."
In Alameda County alone, there were 1,900 untested rape kits in 2014. All those kits have since been tested under an effort led by District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.
Among the rape kits discovered during that time was evidence from a 2008 abduction and sexual assault of two teenagers in Berkeley. The young women immediately reported the rapes to Berkeley police, but a rape kit in the case was not tested during the six years before O'Malley's office discovered it.
The suspect in that case, Keith Kenard Asberry Jr., allegedly went on to attack a woman in her Berkeley home in February 2015 and, 10 days later, to rape and murder Randhir Kaur in her Albany apartment.
Asberry pleaded not guilty in July to 14 counts including murder and rape.
Melody Gutierrez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: . Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez