Thousands of Rape Kits Go Untested in Houston, TX and the U.S.

It was recently reported that the Houston Crime Lab, once said to have approximately 4,000 untested rape kits, actually has closer to 7,000. The kits generally contain swabs, hair combings, blood, fingernail scrapings and any clothing collected during a sexual assault exam.

A study conducted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that these kits go untested for several reasons. Among the reasons given, law enforcement reported that they do not send the kits for crime-lab processing when a suspect has not been identified, the prosecutor did not request that the kit be analyzed or the police just didn’t know whether the information in the kit would be useful to the investigation.

Other than being a useful tool to prove the prosecutor’s case against someone charged with a sex crime, the information contained in a rape kit may assist someone charged with rape and his or herHouston sex assault defense attorney more effectively defend against such charges.

Delays in Texas Rape Kit Processing May Cause Problems for Defendants

Delay in any case can hinder the development of a strong, meaningful defense. This is especially true in cases involving scientific evidence, such as DNA, where a defendant may need additional witnesses to corroborate an alibi or other explanation for the government’s evidence.

While a decade-long delay can make finding witnesses difficult, the key problem is that memories fade with time. The government’s case against a defendant is generally memorialized in police reports, but a defense is rarely documented and often requires additional witnesses who may or may not remember events from years ago.

The true impact of these recently discovered, untested rape kits may never be known. Nevertheless, government agencies must formulate a strategy to address the issue and decide how they will use the evidence that might hold the answers to tens of thousands of “who done its.”

Tackling the Backlog in Texas

In its 2011 federal appropriations, Congress renewed full funding of $151 million for the Department of Justice’s Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Elimination program. The program provides financial backing to state agencies in their attempts to test old DNA evidence.

A new law went into effect September 1 in Texas, requiring police to give rape kits to a state lab for processing within 30 days of receiving a completed kit. The state lab then has three months to process the DNA evidence. Many believe that the new law will force cleanup of the processing backlog with all kits having been tested by 2013.