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New Mexico Audit Finds 5,411 Untested Rape Kits

New Mexico officials discovered more than 5,400 untested rape kits during a recent audit of police evidence lockers. (click/morguefile)
New Mexico officials discovered more than 5,400 untested rape kits during a recent audit of police evidence lockers. (click/morguefile)
January 7, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. – Victims' rights advocates are hoping New Mexico officials take steps during the upcoming legislative session to deal with the state's backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits, or rape kits.

A state audit discovered more than 5,400 kits still sitting in police evidence lockers around the state.

Ilse Knecht is director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, a victims' rights group. She says officials owe it to the victims to move forward with testing for DNA and other evidence.

"When we don't test these kits, we send this message to survivors that their cases don't matter or that what happened to them doesn't matter,” she states. “And when we do test them, we turn that around, and we affirm the survivor's account of what happened, and we take dangerous offenders off the street."

The auditor's office surveyed law enforcement agencies statewide to determine the backlog.

State Auditor Tim Keller says he hopes the information will arm policymakers with the information they need to bring justice and closure to cases.

Keller says he will also use the information to make recommendations to prevent future backlogs.

Knecht says the problem can best be fixed through policy changes.

"The best way to get at this issue is that elected officials at every level of government need to ensure that there is sufficient funding dedicated to, not only processing rape kits, but also to investigating leads and moving cases forward to prosecution," she states.

Gov. Susana Martinez' proposed state budget calls for additional funds to improve the capacity of state forensic labs to address criminal case backlogs.

The Legislature meets starting Jan. 19 to consider the 2017 budget.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM