Evidence in Sex Crime Cases: The Significance of Forensic Evidence
Rape Kits, Forensic Exams, and How they are Used to Prove Sexual Offenses in NJ
New Jersey and other states across the country recognize that victims of sexual assault may suffer physical, emotional, and psychological damage from being violated. They may be ashamed, humiliated, and injured, making it difficult to report the crime to the authorities. Thus, some assaults go unaddressed when victims do not report the crime. And even if they do tell their story to the police, sexual assaults are often unwitnessed, which makes proving a specific defendant committed the act without evidence aside from the victim’s testimony extremely difficult. Unless a rape victim undergoes a timely forensic examination, also known as a rape kit, the state may not have sufficient evidence to convince a jury that a defendant committed the alleged sexual assault or another sex crime.
Worried about DNA evidence being used against you? Call our NJ defense firm.
Even with forensic evidence, a knowledgeable defense lawyer may be able to challenge the findings. Issues with evidence gathering, processing, and chain of custody mistakes may make DNA evidence such as skin fibers, bodily fluid samples, pieces of hair, and other forensic evidence harder for the prosecution to present in court. If you are a suspect in a sex offense investigation in New Jersey, there is no time to waste in contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Tormey Law Firm is thoroughly prepared to talk through the details of your case, delve into all of the state’s evidence, and devise the best approach to handling your defense. Contact us at (201)-557-1570 or start a chat online to speak to a lawyer. We provide free consultations 24/7, so don’t hesitate to call or contact us online today.
What is a Rape Kit?
When sexual assault occurs, the police investigate the crime, seeking DNA evidence at the scene. More likely than not, DNA evidence exists on the victim’s body and clothing. Should a victim choose, they may undergo a sexual assault exam, or rape kit, to get medical treatment and preserve evidence. They may seek a forensic exam without reporting the crime, and the evidence remains stored until a crime report exists. Although the exam is often called a rape kit, there is an actual kit the prosecutor’s office provides for the exam. It consists of everything necessary to collect specimens, including swabs, blood sample instruments, comb, bags, paper sheets, containers, envelopes, instructions, and a checklist. Optimally, the exam takes place within five days of the alleged assault, ideally before the victim has cleaned up or used the restroom so that a crime lab can yield the most accurate results.
Procedures for Medical Examination of a Rape Victim
The first order of business in a rape forensic exam is treating injuries. Then, a trained sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) specially taught to do the exam or sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE), another specially trained healthcare professional takes the victim’s medical history. They may ask about the victim’s medications, health conditions, other recent sexual activity, and the details of the sexual assault, including injuries. The purpose of the health history and report of recent consensual sexual activity is to isolate the evidence from the alleged crime from other factors that may influence the evidence samples. The crime laboratory that analyzes the kit contents seeks to identify the culprit as distinct from different biological samples that show up in the analysis.
Depending on what the victim alleges occurred, a physical examination may consist of a complete exam of the victim’s body, including samplings from the body cavities, blood and urine samples, and hair samples. In addition, the professional conducting the exam may take photos, clothing items, and other physical evidence pertinent to the sexual assault as long as the victim consents. Finally, the examiner may offer information and treatment services about sexually transmitted diseases or infections, including continuing care with facilities that provide post-sexual assault care. They may also inform the victim about crime reporting options.
The rape kit is then secured by law enforcement post examination and stored for ninety (90) days, within which time the victim may decide to release the evidence to law enforcement. Finally, a rape victim chooses whether or not to make a formal report to the police and press charges. If the victim decides to press charges at the forensic exam, the rape kit evidence goes to the crime laboratory for analysis. The findings may identify a defendant for prosecution or serve as a sampling in a database of sexual predators to aid future sexual assault victims.
However, rape kit evidence is only as reliable as the people that gathered the evidence and the procedures followed in conducting an examination. Thus, a defendant accused of sexual assault may avoid some of the stiffest penalties for a crime in New Jersey by hiring a highly qualified sex crimes defense attorney.
Challenging Forensic Evidence in a Sex Crime Case
A criminal defense attorney who defends clients charged with sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated criminal sexual contact, and other offenses is familiar with the evidence gathering to support the state’s case against an accused. The rape kit is critical evidence to convince a jury that the defendant committed the crime. With DNA evidence, the prosecutor has a strong case. However, an experienced attorney can painstakingly question each step of the forensic evidence gathering to raise doubt about its accuracy. We know well that our defense counsel must only raise enough doubt in jurors’ minds to get an acquittal. The state must convince a jury that the defendant committed the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, creating doubt about the primary evidence supporting the crime is an effective defense strategy.
When challenging the forensic evidence in a sex crime case, a skilled lawyer may question how DNA and rape kit evidence was gathered, maintained, and analyzed to reveal any failures to follow protocol or maintain the evidence securely. Essentially, there must be strict protocol followed in order to guarantee the evidence chain of custody, from the victim to the courtroom, is untainted and secure. In addition, a defense attorney may raise questions about the time lapse between the victim’s examination and the alleged rape. If more than five days elapsed between the event and the sexual assault examination, the evidence may not be as convincing. Beyond five days, the likelihood that the victim showered or bathed, eliminating or destroying damning evidence, is strong. Furthermore, the qualifications and training of the nurse conducting the examination are essential also. The registered nurse must have the requisite education to properly perform a sexual assault forensic examination. It cannot be just any registered nurse.
Get Defense Guidance if You are Facing Prosecution for a Sexual Assault in NJ
When the police arrest you for sexual assault or another sex crime in New Jersey, you face serious charges, including a lengthy prison sentence often with a mandatory minimum before the possibility of parole. You may also be forced to pay high fines, subject to an Avenel evaluation, and mandated to complete and continue registration as a sex offender. Registration under Megan’s Law means your life, work, and other options may be limited. With or without forensic evidence against you, it is imperative that you have solid defense counsel from an experienced attorney. Do not take chances with your freedom. Consult with the NJ attorneys at The Tormey Law Firm to discuss how to defend against the charges. Knowing what to expect and where the path ahead leads can allay your fears and turn the tides in your favor. Call (201)-556-1570 for a free legal consultation.
For further information about strategies to fight sex crime charges and other elements of sexual offense criminal cases, visit the pages below:
- Protecting Your Innocence when Facing Sex Crime Allegations in NJ
- Ways to Defend Criminal Sexual Contact in NJ
- How to Beat Aggravated Sexual Assault Charges in NJ
- Challenging Failure to Register as a Sex Offender Charges NJ
- Fighting Endangering the Welfare of a Child Charges in NJ
- Sexual Assault Restraining Orders in NJ: What to Know