One of the standard procedures medical professionals carry out in emergency care for rape victims is to preserve the various pieces of evidence of rape. This includes biological evidence, photographic evidence, and any physical evidence that may be present on the victim's clothing or body. An important tool, or set of tools, used to do this is the so-called "rape/sexual assault kit," which helps medical professionals gather and store such evidence.
One of the problems with rape kits is that, although they provide potentially valuable information for both prosecutors and defense attorneys, they often are put in storage and go untested. This is a real problem both in California and nationwide, with over 70,000 untested kits currently sitting in storage.
Lawmakers in some states have attempted to address the problem by passing measures to complete testing of rape kits. Lawmakers in California have recently introduced such legislation as part of an effort to tackle the issue. The legislation, which spans multiple bills, would implement standardization of rape kits in all counties and require law enforcement agencies to track and report testing, and provide reasons for not testing.
There is little doubt, of course, that rape kits can be instrumental in bringing an offender to justice. It is critical, however, that the evidence is properly handled, stored, tested and documented by trained personnel. Failure to follow the proper procedures can taint the evidence.
When properly done, rape kit examinations can help not only in gathering evidence of rape to bring offenders to justice, but also serve to clear a defendant's name when there is insufficient evidence that rape actually occurred. In a future post, we'll speak more about this issue and why it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to build a strong defense.