TOPEKA – Two new measures recommended by the attorney general's office to help combat sexual assault and domestic violence have been signed into law, said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Last week, the governor signed into law a bill extending the statute of limitations so victims of sexual assault may qualify for crime victim assistance even when an attacker is identified by DNA analysis years after the crime. Schmidt, who recommended the legislation in January, said it is particularly important because of the state's ongoing KBI-led Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which is resulting in older sexual assault kits being submitted for testing. As part of this project, the attorney general’s office provides support for assault victims who are informed, sometimes years after an attack, that their case is again active because of the new DNA evidence.
The new law, which was enacted as a provision in Senate Bill 101, authorizes the state’s Crime Victims Compensation Board, which is housed in the attorney general's office, to consider requests from sexual assault victims within two years of the date a sexual assault victim is notified that testing has identified a DNA profile of the suspect or that the suspect’s actual identify has been discovered, whichever is later. Previously, the statute of limitations barred most victim compensation claims filed more than two years after the date of the crime regardless of when a suspect is identified; consequently, victims sometimes were ineligible for support, including mental health counseling, at the time the victim was told that DNA testing had identified the suspected attacker.
The second measure elevates to aggravated battery, rather than simple battery, domestic assaults in which the attacker strangles the victim. Because strangulation cases often lack visible injuries, under prior law domestic violence cases involving strangulation were difficult for prosecutors to prove and often resulted in only misdemeanor convictions even when the attacks were severe. For several years, Attorney General Schmidt and crime victims' advocacy groups had proposed similar legislation to create a strangulation-specific felony, but those past efforts failed to make it all the way through the legislative process. Schmidt introduced this year's successful legislation in January, and after extensive negotiation with interested parties it was enacted into law as a provision in Senate Bill 112, which the governor has signed into law.
"These two measures are important new tools in our ongoing efforts to counter domestic violence and support victims of sexual assault," Schmidt said. "I'm grateful for the support these proposals received this year, and I commend all of their supporters for their determined perseverance that has made these changes a reality."