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The Case for Testing All Sexual Assault Kits

Date Published
June 14, 2012

Sidebar to the article Solving Sexual Assaults: Finding Answers Through Research by Nancy Ritter.

There is significant support — particularly among victim advocates, policymakers, prosecutors and sexual assault survivors — for testing all sexual assault kits (SAKs). This includes the thousands of SAKs maintained in police property rooms as well as kits in every new sexual assault that occurs. Proponents of mandatory testing argue that testing SAKS even in non-stranger cases (48–75 percent of sexual assaults[3-7]) can potentially lead to the identification of a serial rapist, affirm the victim's version of events, discredit the assailant or exonerate an innocent suspect.

Advancements in DNA technology now allow smaller and more degraded pieces of biological evidence to be analyzed. Therefore, current DNA technologies can be used to solve cold cases and exonerate wrongly convicted people.

It is also possible to use DNA-testing results from cases that are not going to be adjudicated — if the statute of limitations has run, for example — in other ways. Testing results from an unadjudicated case may be deemed relevant in the parole hearing of a person convicted of a crime for example. It is also possible for a judge to allow evidence of past criminal behavior — even criminal behavior that was unadjudicated, if the court deems that it is directly relevant to the case at hand — under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b).

Often referred to simply as "404(b)," this rule allows evidence regarding a defendant's character or prior criminal conduct into a trial under certain circumstances. Some proponents of analyzing all older SAKs argue that even if the statute of limitations has run, it could be important to have 404(b) evidence of a past sexual assault if the person is on trial in the future for another sexual assault. Especially in cases when the victim and the suspect know each other, the ability to present 404(b) evidence can effectively turn a "he-said, she-said" case into a case of "he-said, she-said, she-said."

About This Article

This article appeared in NIJ Journal Issue 270, June 2012, as a sidebar to the article Solving Sexual Assaults: Finding Answers Through Research by Nancy Ritter.

Date Published: June 14, 2012