SPRINGFIELD — Law enforcement officials may no longer have a legal deadline to analyze rape kits, under legislation approved by the state Senate Monday.
The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Noland, D-Elgin, would waive the statute of limitations during the time it takes for investigators to analyze evidence of rape.
"Victims of sexual assault deserve justice," Noland said. "They should not be denied their rights simply because someone failed to test the evidence."
To illustrate his point, he brought up the case of Rosa Pickett, who was sexually assaulted 36 years ago in Robbins.
Although Pickett provided evidence samples for law enforcement, Robbins investigators never analyzed the rape kit. She later confronted police about the stalled investigation and was told that the statute of limitations on her case had expired.
Under Noland's proposal, the statute of limitations for sexual assault would begin to run out once investigators had completed forensic testing of a rape kit. Under current law, the time to prosecute a case starts to run out as soon as the crime takes place.
Noland said his proposal would allow victims to pursue justice even when investigators fall behind on rape kit testing. This was an issue in the state until 2013, when State Police worked through a backlog of 4,000 untested rape kits.
State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said that a new backlog is a distinct possibility.
Lawmakers recently warned that the State Police could be one of many agencies facing deep budget cuts next year. Under the projected cuts, Bond said all forensic testing in the state would face serious delays.
"Without the resources we need, it will have a detrimental impact on our ability to solve cases," Bond said.
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said he supported Noland's proposal but worried that removing the deadline wouldn't do anything to prevent the kind of misconduct that took place in Robbins.
"Doesn't that take the pressure off of these people to afford the victims timely justice?" he asked.
Noland said he would be open to working with Righter on follow-up legislation to address the problem.
The Senate voted 54-0 to approval the proposal, which now moves to the House for further debate.
The legislation is Senate Bill 2609.