Montana’s Statewide Inventory of Unsubmitted Sex Assault Kits Federally Certified

The Montana Department of Justice announced today that its inventory of previously unsubmitted sex assault kits has been federally certified and that lab testing of the kits will begin this month.

Last September, Montana was awarded a $2 million federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant to inventory, test, and track unsubmitted sex-assault evidence kits across the state. That same month, Montana also received an additional $284,500 grant specifically for kit tracking.

Joan Eliel, SAKI Site Coordinator for the Montana Department of Justice, submitted the inventory of 1,140 kits to the federal SAKI technical support staff for review at the end of May.  When the team’s review was complete, the inventory was sent to the grantor, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the United States Department of Justice, for certification.  The BJA announced last week it had certified Montana’s inventory, validating its count of the unsubmitted kits.

Attorney General Tim Fox said, “Federal certification of Montana’s unsubmitted sex assault kit inventory is an important milestone toward meeting our goals of ensuring all unsubmitted sexual assault kits in Montana are tested, and eliminating the accumulation of unsubmitted kits in the future.  I appreciate our law enforcement jurisdictions who assisted us in completing the inventory for their outstanding collaboration and commitment to ensuring justice prevails for sex assault victims in Montana.”

Now that the inventory has been federally certified, the kits will be sent in phases to Sorenson Labs in Salt Lake City, Utah for testing.  Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia will perform the technical review of the test results to ensure sufficient basis for the scientific conclusions; review must be complete before a DNA profile can be entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.  This system enables federal, state, and local forensic labs to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically, linking serial violent crimes to each other and to known offenders.  Kit testing will begin this month; the Montana Department of Justice expects to start receiving results as early as September.

Eliel said, “Now that this milestone has been met, we can move forward on working actual cases.  Soon, we’ll hire an in-house SAKI victim advocate to implement the victim notification procedures our Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force is developing, as well as connect victims to resources in their local communities.”  Eliel also said that adding a cold case investigator as well as a law enforcement training coordinator to develop a sexual assault investigation curriculum and field guide for the Montana Law Enforcement Academy will occur in the coming months.

This fall, the Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force meets again to discuss policies and procedures on best practices for how local jurisdictions should uniformly handle sex assault kits, and conduct a final review of a database portal that will allow victims to track the status of their sex assault kits.

In response to nationwide concerns over unsubmitted sex assault evidence kits in communities across the country, Attorney General Tim Fox took a pro-active approach in Montana two years ago.  His office conducted a statewide poll of the state’s sheriffs and police chiefs to estimate the number of unsubmitted kits being stored in law enforcement agencies across the state.  At that same time, Attorney General Fox brought together a variety of stakeholders as part of his Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force, and asked the group to determine precisely how many unsubmitted evidence kits existed in Montana and work with local law enforcement agencies and others to ensure all would be tested.