When allegations of sexual assault are made, samples of the potential victim’s hair, bodily fluids, and garments are collected and stored, commonly referred to as rape kits. Once analyzed in a lab facility, these pieces of evidence can provide DNA evidence for use in a criminal trial.
However, law enforcement agencies across Virginia–and the nation– often fell short, even failing to send rape kits to a laboratory. As a result, tens of thousands of rape kits collected across the country over the years just sat in evidence lockers. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, this backlog reached almost 3,000 kits in 2014. This led to a tipping point, when a law passed that same year that required the testing of all rape kits. Subsequently, most of Virginia’s rape kit backlog has now been sent for analysis after securing millions of dollars in grants to fund the project. Now, the questions being asked are what to do with the results and will they lead to criminal charges.
If you are accused of a sex crime in Virginia after a rape kit has been tested years after the incident in question, you should contact an experienced Roanoke criminal defense attorney with Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico. These types of charges could affect your life in ways you can barely imagine, but you still have rights and deserve the chance to defend yourself.
Will More Sex Crime Charges Follow?
According to Lieutenant Patrick Harris of the Virginia Beach Police Department, the testing of their department’s 344 backlogged rape kits will probably not result in any convictions–or criminal charges for that matter. Lieutenant Harris indicated that most rape cases have a familiar pattern, where identifying the suspect through DNA evidence from rape kits is not necessary. “The scenario is a boyfriend, or a recent acquaintance, someone they met at some type of drinking establishment.” What matters most, and what rape kits can’t usually establish, is whether the sexual conduct with that individual was consensual.
Virginia Mandates Victims to Be Notified When Kits Are Tested
Virginia’s rape kit law states that when a backlogged rape kit gets tested, “the victim, a parent or guardian of a minor victim, or the next of kin of a deceased victim shall be notified by the law-enforcement agency of the completion of the analysis and shall, upon request, receive information from the law-enforcement agency regarding the results of any analysis.”
On its face, notifying people when a rape kit is tested seems like a good policy. People have a right to know what happens to their evidence samples, and to be notified of any updates to their case. But in practice, law enforcement agencies in Virginia found that many potential victims were upset when they were reminded of assaults that took place years ago. A phone call or letter from the police about a past assault could reopen wounds that took years to heal.
To make matter worse, very few criminal cases progress after rape kits are analyzed. The DNA evidence obtained may suggest that sexual contact occurred, but it does not prove that it was non-consensual. This is an essential component of a sexual assault case. Years after the fact, establishing whether a sexual encounter was consensual is extremely difficult. Even though there is no statute of limitations for rape in Virginia, it is unlikely that many prosecutions will move forward based solely on backlogged rape kits finally being tested.
In the Future, the Use of Rape Kits Will Likely Be More Effective
The use of backlogged rape kits in criminal cases has been limited. But moving forward, we can expect Virginia law enforcement to be more proactive in analyzing and using evidence from rape kits while cases are still “fresh.” Furthermore, detectives nowadays are better trained in how to interview possible sexual assault or rape victims. As Virginia enhances its procedures for investigating sexual assaults and processing evidence, it is likely that prosecutors will be even more aggressive in charging sex crime suspects.
Discuss Your Rights with a Roanoke Rape Lawyer
If you have been named as a suspect following the testing of a rape-kit or any type of Virginia sex crime, you should seek the assistance of a highly-skilled Roanoke criminal defense attorney immediately. The police will be eager to talk to you because they can use your statements against you. But you have rights and options to consider. Do not speak with the police before contacting an attorney.
Call Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico today at (540) 343-9349 to schedule your consultation with a Roanoke sex crime lawyer.