- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio’s 20-year statute of limitations for prosecuting rape cases could be extended under legislation in the House and Senate.

The bills, which also would cover sexual battery, provide a five-year extension for prosecution once a DNA match is found.

The legislation comes as the attorney general’s office continues to plow through a backlog of untested rape kits, with numerous cases of DNA matches in a criminal database. The extension is being sought as some of the old rape kits being tested near the 20-year limit.

“This legislation would allow our victims to seek the justice they deserve,” state Sen. Jim Hughes, a Columbus Republican and bill co-sponsor, testified last week. At least 27 other states have similar extension laws.

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Tuesday challenging the bill’s constitutionality. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will consider the matter Wednesday.

The current proposal creates two classes of accused rapists, those whose cases involve DNA and those whose cases don’t, Amy Borror, a lobbyist with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, told the House committee.

The Ohio Supreme Court recently found a gross sexual imposition law unconstitutional on similar grounds, she said Tuesday.

Rep. Greta Johnson, an Akron Democrat, said every jury in a criminal case is told that direct evidence and indirect evidence are to be treated equally.

“When we say DNA evidence is more important than any other evidence, we begin to place values on this evidence that shakes the bedrock of the criminal justice system,” said Johnson, a former prosecutor.

The proposals follow a law enacted last year requiring police departments to submit new rape kits for analysis within 30 days.

A testing initiative announced by Attorney General Mike DeWine in 2011 offers free DNA testing to law enforcement agencies with untested kits.

To date, more than 150 law enforcement agencies have submitted 9,237 rape kits for testing by the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Of those, forensic scientists have completed testing on 6,577 kits, with 2,456 matches in a criminal database, including 259 defendants indicted in Cuyahoga County.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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