TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A new Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis makes changes to the policies in place for sexual offense investigations and how to collect and store sexual offense evidence.
Going forward, HB 673, also called Gail’s Law, makes it so that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement must create and maintain a statewide database to track sexual offense evidence kits, and requires FDLE to keep alleged victims and others notified about, and have access to, information about those kits.
The law requires that FDLE create and maintain the database for SAKs, and that said database tracks the location, processing status, and storage of each evidence kit. Once the database is implemented, the evidence must be tracked throughout the criminal justice process, beginning with the time it is collected for an investigation.
Law enforcement agencies will have access to the statewide database and alleged victims, those who reported the crime to law enforcement, will be able to access the database, too.
By law, the database must be up and running by July 1, 2023 and the FDLE, must adopt rules establishing the requirements for each entity that participates in the database. Those entities are defined as “law enforcement agencies, medical facilities, crime laboratories, and any other facilities that collect, receive, maintain, store, or preserve sexual offense evidence kits,” as required by the department.
FDLE will also be required to ensure that each alleged victim is notified of the existence of the database and provided with instructions on how to access it. They must also be told that they are entitled to information about the evidence kit, including its testing status, tracking information, and any DNA matches to someone that investigators believe is a suspect or person of interest.
Notification of DNA matches can only tell alleged victims that a match has occurred, and may not provide identifying information. The law says that notification may be delayed up to 180 days after a match if investigators believe it will negatively impact the investigative process.
Participation by FDLE may be phased in in initial participation for tracking the kits based on region, volume of kits, or other “appropriate classifications” but all entities in the chain of custody for the sexual offense evidence kits must fully participate in the database no later than one year after its creation.
FDLE can apply for grant funds to assist in implementation, if necessary.