Untested Sexual Assault Evidence in Law Enforcement Custody

Rape kits (officially titled Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits) are a critical part of the evidence that is collected after a sexual assault.

To determine if untested evidence in a rape kit should be sent to a crime laboratory for analysis, investigating officers should conduct a careful review of all the evidence and the case file. They should also collect biological samples from anyone who had consensual sex with the victim before the assault because the evidence in the rape kit may contain DNA from more than one person. The laboratory can then exclude innocent persons from the pool of suspects. Without these "elimination" samples from innocent sexual partners, profiles obtained from the evidence may not qualify for entry into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) so profiles from the sexual assault can be searched against profiles of convicted offenders and arrestees.

Rape kits may not be sent to the lab for a number of reasons. For example, the victim withdraws the criminal complaint, or there is no question about the identity of the parties involved. Additionally, DNA may be available from other evidence not in the rape kit, such as the victim’s clothing, bedding and other objects. Other probative evidence, such as hairs, fibers, soil or latent prints, may provide valuable case information.

Sexual assault cases are very complex. Each one needs to be appropriately evaluated to determine the best approach to not only identify and prosecute the perpetrator, but to exonerate the innocent as well.

Date Created: October 5, 2009