RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There’s enough funding in North Carolina’s newly enacted budget to eliminate the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits, but Attorney General Josh Stein (D) said Tuesday it could take two to three years to process all the kits.
“The people who suffered those horrendous assaults, they deserve to get justice,” he said. “We hope that within two to three years, the backlog will be entirely eliminated. But, what’s so good about what the legislature did is the funding that the provided should be enough for us to get the job done.”
In recent years, Stein and state lawmakers have made addressing the backlog a priority, changing regulations in how the kits are handled and providing money to test the older kits.
The state budget, which Republicans in the General Assembly held votes on last week and Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed into law, provides $10 million for testing kits. Stein said there’s also funding included to hire eight scientists at the State Crime Laboratory, who will test kits as part of their work.
Stein said the state is working with an outside lab to test the older kits. As states across the nation try to clear their own backlogs of evidence kits, the labs themselves are trying to keep up.
“There’s a backlog of kits at the vendor lab, and there simply aren’t enough vendor labs out there,” he said.
The Attorney General’s Office said out of 16,206 older kits on law enforcement shelves: 4,379 kits have been completely tested, 4,636 are in the process of being tested, and 7,191 await testing.
The General Assembly passed the SURVIVOR Act in 2019, which provided some funding to process kits but also created new requirements for handling them. Any entity that collects a kit has to notify law enforcement in 24 hours. After that, law enforcement agencies have 45 days to investigate and submit a kit for testing.
Linda Combs, a survivor of sexual assault, said the backlog can never be allowed to occur again.
“People deserve a voice. Each kit contains a voice that tells us a story of who this person is who committed this crime,” she said.
In 1992, she was kidnapped, raped and “left to die.”
“I knew about DNA. And, I prayed that DNA would be found in my body because I didn’t expect to live and get up and walk away,” she said, saying her kit was one of the first to be put in the system.
Last year, she said law enforcement arrested one of three people involved in her case, more than two decades after the assault occurred.
“We have to stay focused on this new technology and take it as the blessing that it is,” she said. “That is your justice. Get your kit tested.”