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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2011

Standardize rape tests

If Ohio is to provide uniform justice in rape cases, it needs common statewide rules for testing evidence.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine seeks to standardize the processing of rape kits, ending the patchwork of local policies that can compromise due process. Like his predecessor, Richard Cordray, Mr. DeWine warns of the dangers of disparities in testing among jurisdictions across the state.

Some local law-enforcement agencies have extensive backlogs of rape kits that were stored but never tested. As a result, only some victims had evidence in their cases analyzed and fed into a national database of DNA profiles, which can identify or rule out suspects. And some crime sprees continued unchecked, when a prompt rape-kit analysis might have led to a DNA match, an arrest, and less violence against victims.

Mr. DeWine wants to test every rape kit in this fashion, unless there is a compelling reason not to -- if the victim objects, for example, or if the identity of an attacker already is known.

The biological evidence that medical personnel collect after a sex crime may include critical information that can stop a serial rapist or killer, or exonerate a falsely accused defendant. Victim advocacy groups in Ohio argue credibly that local prosecutors and law enforcement now have too much discretion in deciding which rape cases will undergo evidence testing.

A rape kit that ultimately tied alleged Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell to that assault went untested while he remained at large. Sowell is charged with 11 murders and multiple sexual attacks.

That can't happen again. Uniform testing rules for rape kits would give victims in Ohio a greater expectation that justice will be done.

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