D.A. Vance: Puerto Rico to Test 1,500 Backlogged Rape Kits Using Surplus From D.A.’s National Rape Kit Backlog Testing Program

July 1, 2020

D.A. Vance Also Releases Second “Test Every Kit” Report Detailing Results to Date of Backlogged Rape Kit Testing Across U.S.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced that Puerto Rico will test approximately 1,500 sexual assault evidence kits, known as “rape kits,” using surplus funds from the Office’s $35 million initiative to test backlogged rape kits across the country. The initial program was completed in September 2018 with a surplus of program funds remaining, enabling a $2 million grant to the Department of Public Safety of Puerto Rico. This investment marks the completion of the Office’s funding of the nationwide program.

The Department of Public Safety houses the Puerto Rico Bureau of Forensic Sciences (“BFS”) – the sole provider of forensic services for the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Testing of Puerto Rico’s backlogged kits, which date back to as early as 2003, will begin today.

“Untested rape kits cannot and will not sit on shelves collecting dust during the coronavirus pandemic,” said District Attorney Vance. “We owe survivors of sexual assault so much more than to be forgotten for any reason. This investment makes it possible for Puerto Rico to start testing nearly 1,500 backlogged kits today, and begin the crucial path toward securing justice for survivors.

“Each of the 55,000 rape kits tested nationwide with our investment tells a remarkable story of a survivor whose quest for justice lasted far too long. I thank all the cities and states that participated in our program and I look forward to sharing continued results.”

Puerto Rico Public Safety Secretary, Pedro Janer, said: “The Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety welcomes the opportunity that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will provide to the 1,500 rape victims whose cases have fallen into backlog. This initiative is of the utmost significance for victims’ closure and a step forward in our determination to raise our standards in criminal investigations that finalize in the conviction of those responsible for these heinous crimes.”

D.A. Vance also released the second Test Every Kit report today, which details the program’s updated results, case studies, and local reform updates. A previous iteration of this report was released in March 2019.

Since the program began in September 2015, more than 55,000 rape kits have been tested in 32 jurisdictions spanning 20 states. More than 22,494 newly developed DNA profiles were uploaded into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”). To date, the D.A.’s investment has yielded 251 new arrests and 105 new convictions, including 93 felony sexual assault convictions, as well as the elimination of local backlogs in 25 of 32 of the funded jurisdictions and elimination or near-elimination of backlogs in eight states – Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah.

Test Every Kit Report

As detailed in the Test Every Kit report released today, “between September 2015 and September 2018, 32 jurisdictions in 20 states received funding from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to test roughly 55,000 backlogged kits, generating DNA evidence that will help solve crimes for decades to come.”

The report concludes that by testing their backlogged kits, “these jurisdictions have bolstered a national DNA databank, identified suspects, convicted perpetrators, prevented future offenses, and brought long-awaited justice to survivors.”

Highlights include:

  • 55,205 backlogged sexual assault kits sent to labs for testing
  • 22,494 DNA profiles uploaded into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS)
  • 11,384 “hits” in the CODIS databank
  • 271 new prosecutions commenced, including 222 felony sexual assault prosecutions and 1 felony homicide prosecution
  • 251 new arrests
  • 105 new convictions, including 93 felony sexual assault convictions

The report includes new case examples from jurisdictions across the U.S., and breakdowns of each jurisdiction’s updated results thus far. The report also examines local reforms in each of the jurisdictions, including new laws and policies which: mandate kit testing, establish statewide tracking systems, impose requirements to conduct annual inventories, and eliminate of the statute of limitations for first-degree sexual assaults when DNA evidence is present.

Case Study – Kentucky State Police: In 1981, Donald Berlin, now 64-years-old, raped an 18-year-old woman after breaking into her Lexington, Kentucky home. She was asleep on the couch when he entered her house through a bathroom window. The survivor, now 56-years-old, then drove herself to a local hospital where she had a rape kit collected. Her kit was tested in 2017 through the Manhattan D.A.’s grant program and hit to Berlin. Berlin, who was convicted of a bank robbery and attempted rape in 1982, was set for release in 2027. In 2019, 38 years after the original assault, Berlin was found guilty and received a 20-year sentence, which he will serve consecutively with his prior sentence.

Ending the Rape Kit Backlog

Rape kits, also known as sexual assault evidence kits, are collections of evidence taken during an invasive, lengthy examination conducted at a hospital or rape crisis center following a sexual assault. The DNA evidence contained in rape kits is a powerful tool for identifying suspects, convicting perpetrators, preventing future offenses, and exonerating the innocent.

In November 2014, D.A. Vance announced an unprecedented investment to fund the testing of tens of thousands of rape kits sitting in storage facilities across the country – representing what was then the single largest contribution toward ending the national rape kit backlog that had ever been made. D.A. Vance called upon Congress to match this investment, and the next month, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (“BJA”) announced a separate, but complementary, $41 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant Program. In total, since 2015, BJA has committed more than $200 million to 63 jurisdictions across 40 states.