We did not see any evidence that SB1636 increased the number of sexual assault cases reported in Texas, the proportion of cases resulting in arrest, or the proportion of court cases resulting in conviction. Sexual assault reports and arrests trended gradually downward over the period of time we studied (both statewide and in the three local counties examined). Arrest and conviction rates were essentially flat during the time period. Of course, there are many confounding factors, other than SB1636, that may have influenced these trends over this period of time. In this case, however, our analyses suggest that SB1636 has not affected sexual assault reports or arrests.
SB1636 did not contain provisions for enforcement of the requirement to submit kits untested at the time the law took effect in August/2011. Fortunately, the largest agencies in the state have submitted archived SAKs for testing. While many of the smaller agencies may see few sexual assault cases, and the smallest may not see any, the numbers suggest that compliance with this provision of SB1636 was low.
Looking across sites, we see similarities in how they have adapted to SB1636. First of all, the heaviest burden of SB1636 has fallen on local crime labs. The requirement that all kits going forward be tested in combination with more thorough evidence collection by hospitals and another recent requirement regarding comprehensive testing of DNA evidence from homicides has led to substantial increases in lab workloads and turnaround time. (The exact amount is hard to determine because of other confounding factors including trends toward more DNA evidence being collected in sexual assault cases by SANEs and a statute requiring much more comprehensive testing of DNA in homicide cases.) Fort Worth and Dallas have had to adopt new methods of prioritizing cases as turnaround time has increased to unacceptably high levels. The Arlington Police Department switched local DNA labs to reduce the higher costs it was experiencing as a result of the increase in samples tested.
Sexual assault investigator workloads have also been affected by SB1636 mainly through the requirement that older untested kits be submitted for laboratory analysis. This is true both because of the effort required in the process of inventorying pre-August/2011 kits and because of the time needed to review cases, contact victims, and investigate cases where CODIS hits are returned. Only Arlington, which has not yet had CODIS hits returned, has escaped this work temporarily.
Being the furthest downstream, prosecutors have been least affected by SB1636, either from the requirement that pre-August/2011 cases be tested or that all sexual assault cases be tested going forward.
The testing process for the cohort of pre-August/2011 SAKs is well advanced in Dallas and in Fort Worth. In both of these cities, we were able to calculate initial estimates of the proportion of CODIS hits from the cohort that result in arrest. In Fort Worth, it was 14%, in Dallas 4%. These are not final figures and, even in Dallas and Fort Worth, it is too early to estimate prosecutions and convictions stemming from these SAKs. In Austin, CODIS hits have just recently started coming back and in Arlington they will still be a while in coming. A new grant from the National Institute of Justice will allow us to continue to track the CODIS hits and determine the number of cases in which serial rapists are identified and the number that result in convictions over the next year and a half.
In general, criminal justice officials spoke in positive terms about the statute. This was especially true of prosecutors, who believed that the SB1636 would result in more identification of serial rapists and more convictions. Of course, prosecutors are also the group of officials whose workload is least affected by the statute. Some police investigators felt that the law went too far in taking away from police the discretion not to test in cases where testing was not probative – cases in which a consensual defense was mounted, cases in which a guilty plea had already been entered, or cases in which victims refused to cooperate. Some officials supportive of the law also argued that jurisdictions ought to receive state funds to cover the increased costs they were experiencing.