There were 5,406 untested sexual assault evidence kits in the state at the end of last year, according to the state auditor. A pair of bills to tackle the problem cleared their first hurdles on Tuesday, Feb. 2.
Rep. Antonio Maestas said New Mexico has long underfunded the criminal labs that analyze rape kits. But if the state wants to get real about fighting crime, he said, it’s time to process the evidence. "We could increase penalties all day long—all we need is to do a DNA match to a defendant, and we get an indictment, and we get a conviction," he said. "So there’s no better money spent in the criminal justice system than analyzing these rape kits."
That’s why Maestas and Rep. Deborah Armstrong are sponsoring two pieces of legislation: One would give the Department of Public Safety $2.3 million to work through the backlog, and the other aims to provide support for sexual assault survivors whose old cases are dredged up. "You get the criminal justice system you pay for," Maestas said. "These are actual crimes with a cooperative victim. Why we’re not seeing these cases through is shocking to me."
Both measures are making their way to the Appropriations Committee, which will decide whether there’s money in the budget for them.