add your name to the SATI Mailing List,
SATI e-News: March 24, 2003
Upholds Megan's Law and Sex Offender Registries
A Supreme Court decision rendered
earlier this month bolstered state sex offender registries
around the country. It is the first time that the Supreme Court
has weighed in on so-called Megan’s laws, named for 7 year-old
Megan Kanka who was raped and killed in 1994 by a convicted sex
offender who lived in her neighborhood without the knowledge of
her parents. In two separate decisions, the Court rejected
challenges to sex offender notification laws in Connecticut and
Alaska, which addressed different aspects of such laws.
In a unanimous 9 to 0 ruling, the justices found that the
Connecticut law does not violate due process rights of sex
offenders by posting their names, pictures and other information
on the World Wide Web without giving each offender an
opportunity for a hearing to demonstrate they are no longer
dangerous. In the opinion, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist
wrote that, “due process does not require the opportunity to
prove a fact that is not material to the state’s statutory
scheme,” and that the Connecticut Department of Public Safety
“has made no determination that any individual included in the
registry is currently dangerous.” He further stated that,
Connecticut’s Web site explicitly disclaimed any effort to
predict the danger an offender presents to the public.
Consequently, Rehnquist said that there was no constitutional
right to disprove what the state was not asserting.
In the Alaska case, the Court rejected arguments that the
State’s Megan’s Law should not apply to sex offenders who
committed crimes before the law took effect. Attorneys for the
two sex offenders who filed the case had argued before the Court
that the registry constituted an additional punishment, in
violation of ex post facto laws. But in the 6-3 majority opinion
written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the justices found that
the public notification laws are not a matter of imposing
another punishment, but rather dissemination of information that
is already public record.
Constitutional experts believe the two Supreme Court rulings
dealt a serious blow to privacy and civil rights advocates, and
will weaken or foreclose pending challenges to Megan’s laws in
other states, particularly those based on double jeopardy,
according to the New York Times. However, civil rights activists
are expected to continue formulating other constitutional
challenges, based on comments made in separate opinions rendered
by Justices David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg which
suggest the Court may be open to considering constitutional
arguments based on either denial of liberty or equal protection
challenges, according to the New York Times.
All 50 states have some form of Megan’s law on the books, and
according to the New York Times, about half of them make
individualized assessments of dangerousness before posting an
offender’s information. In New Jersey, for example, nearly half
the offenders are placed in the lowest-risk category and are not
subject to public disclosure of their whereabouts. Only about 5
percent of the sex offenders in New Jersey, the most dangerous,
are subject to widespread disclosure, also according to the
“Sex Offender Lists Protect Public,
Supreme Court Says; Justices Uphold Megan’s Laws,” Chicago
Tribune, March 6, 2003.
“Megan’s Laws Affirmed by High Court,” Washington Post,
March 6, 2003.
“Supreme Court Watch,” The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, PBS,
March 5, 2003.
“The Supreme Court: Sex Offenders; Justices Reject Challenges to
Megan’s Laws,” New York Times, March 6, 2003.
“Ruling Opens Door to List Sex Offenders,” New York Times,
March 9, 2003.
“Court OKs Online Sex Offender Postings,” Associated Press,
March 5, 2003.
Links to sex offender registries in all 50 states
SATI e-News, November 2002 issue
^top of page^
What Campus Crime Victims Can Disclose About Assailants
The Department of Education
clarified that victims of violent crime on college campuses do
not violate a student privacy law by publicly sharing the final
results of disciplinary action taken against their assailants
when the school has found the accused violated institutional
rules. However, the DOE stated that if the accused student is
found not to violate school rules, the student bringing the
charge may not redisclose any information which the university
The DOE guidance was in the form of a response to a letter from
Security on Campus (SOC), a national nonprofit victim rights
organization. In a letter to the DOE last October, SOC Vice
President S. Daniel Carter charged that universities are using
the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to
hide campus crime information from their students and the
The specific case, which prompted SOC's query involved Samantha
Collins, a student at the College of William and Mary in
Virginia. Collins had brought rape charges against another
student through the campus judicial process. The assailant was
found guilty at a disciplinary hearing and was expelled from
Last Fall, Collins put up posters on campus which chronicled the
events in her case, including the name of her attacker. The
victim told the Student Press Law Center that she decided
on the poster campaign when she realized that her assailant had
become eligible to apply for readmission to the school. School
officials took down the posters and told Collins she was in
violation of FERPA laws. The administration later apologized for
its action after Security on Campus pointed out the law, which
allows this type of disclosure, and she was told she could put
up the posters again.
Both the DOE and SOC letters are available on the
"Rape victim's poster taken down twice
at William and Mary; identifying assailant led to censorship by
campus officials," Student Press Law Center, October 29,
"US Department of Education says campus crime victims can
redisclose disciplinary results,"
Security on Campus press release, March 19, 2003.
^top of page^
Operation Freefall: A Two-Mile
High Stand Against Sexual Assault
Rape survivors often experience anxiety on the anniversary of
their assault. Even the approach of the day can bring on a
panic attack and cause painful flashbacks. Four years ago,
Kellie Greene decided to reclaim January 18, the date she was
raped in 1994. She wanted to give that day a different
meaning--one of her own choosing, and one that was positive
and uplifting. On January 18, 1998, Kellie made her first
parachute jump. Five years later, thousands of supporters will
join Kellie on April 26 at dozens of jumps sites across the
country in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It’s
not too late to join them in Operation Freefall.
^top of page^
New Organization Supports
Sexual Assault Victims Through Grants During Prosecution
The parents of a rape survivor have
launched a foundation to help sexual assault victims by
providing grants to allow their families or other support
persons to attend the criminal trial. Grants through the It
Happened to Alexa Foundation are intended for rape victims
who are about to testify in the criminal trial and who reside a
significant distance from the trial venue.
It was September 1999 when Tom and Stacey Branchini drove their
18 year-old daughter, Alexa, from Buffalo to Boston for her
first semester at Boston University. Ten days later they
received the call that every parent dreads: "Your daughter is in
the hospital--she's been raped."
A stranger, Abdelmajid Akouk had broken into her dormitory
through a window. He hid in a shower stall of the hallway
bathroom and attacked Alexa at knife-point when she went to get
a drink of water.
The Branchinis were relieved that Alexa was alive, and that
police had apprehended the rapist the night of the attack,
before he'd even left the campus. But it was only the beginning
of Alexa's ordeal.
Over the next several months the Branchinis discovered what rape
victims go through, and realized why so few victims report. It
took 18 months and several continuances before the case went to
trial, which lasted three weeks.
While Akouk had claimed mistaken identity when first
apprehended, his strategy shifted to the consent defense once
DNA evidence confirmed his link to the crime. Alexa was grilled
by the defense attorney for four hours. Ultimately, Akouk was
sentenced to 40-45 years in prison without the possibility of
"We were relieved at the outcome, and that it was finally over,
but we could not imagine Alexa or any other rape victim having
to go through that traumatic court appearance alone," Tom
Branchini told SATI e-News. "It made us think about other
families who might not have the financial resources that would
allow them to be there," Branchini added. Alexa and her family
made several trips to Boston due to continuances.
Alexa had withstood numerous tactics by the defense attorneys to
break her will, and her testimony was critical to the conviction
of Akouk. The family decided to honor their daughter's courage
and bravery by establishing a grant program to help other
victims and their families.
The It Happened To Alexa Foundation hopes to encourage
more sexual assault victims to report to law enforcement, so
that sex offenders can be brought to justice. Currently, only
one in three rapes is ever reported to law enforcement,
according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The Foundation's grant process requires the victim to submit an
application, which the prosecutor must sign to confirm the
details of the case. The grant application is to be submitted
after an indictment is made and a trial date has been set.
Awards range up to $3,000 per case. The grant application and
additional eligibility guidelines are available at
www.ithappenedtoalexa.org. Brochures about the grant program
are available for sex crimes professionals for distribution to
rape victims, upon request to
The Foundation received a grant from the Million Dollar
Roundtable Foundation, which will help fund the first round of
^top of page^
Attorney General Announces $1
Billion Commitment to Eliminate DNA Backlog
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft
announced that the administration
will commit $1 billion over
five years to process a massive
backlog of genetic
samples nationwide. The DNA Initiative is expected to help
of cold cases by processing DNA evidence from 350,000 crime
scenes, including rape kits, and 300,000
convicted offender samples which remain unevaluated (National
Institute of Justice estimates).
From Around the Country
The following news
summaries in this section are reprinted with permission from the
DNA Legislation & News, published by Smith Alling Lane, a
government affairs firm that provides nationwide governmental
affairs services to Applied Biosystems:
SARTs/SANEs Struggle With Budget Cuts
In New York, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program
designed to help rape victims get through hospital examinations
following an attack could be dismantled soon unless hospitals
and municipalities help finance the cost. The state funding that
started the program has dried up. An area crime lab director
indicated concern with the possible elimination of the program
saying, "Fifty percent of the kits we get from non-SANE
personnel are incomplete. It's not that hospital personnel
aren't doing their best. They just don't have the experience
dealing with these patients. This is all the SANE nurses do."
"Rape-Treatment Program May
End." The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), February 19, 2003.
Editorial urges Syracuse, New York to save the local SANE
program, saying that "SANE empowers victims and it arms
prosecutors. It should be saved." Notes that only 65 percent of
DNA samples in non-SANE kits were properly collected -- that
compares to 91 percent in SANE kits. A university hospital has
agreed to continue paying for SANEs, another hospital said it
cannot afford to, and two other hospitals are still considering
"Keeping Sane." The Post
Standard (Syracuse, NY),. March 5, 2003.
In Oakland County, Michigan, a county finance committee
told the officials of the Sexual Assault Response Team
(consisting of forensic nurses) that the $36,000 they gave last
year to help fund the $150,000-a-year anti-abuse program was
only temporary. The county is struggling to cut around $23
million from its estimated $510 million budget before the next
fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The county drafted a
resolution last year that said that if the program's officials
came back for additional funding the following year, they must
first go through the county's purchasing policies to become
legal, Moss said. To do that, the nonprofit group must find a
county department that will contract for that service.
"Sex, abuse trauma team to
lose funds." The Detroit News, March 5, 2003.
In New York, a cold hit on the DNA database has resulted
in a 165-year sentence for a man convicted of sexually
assaulting two girls and a 67-year-old woman. The man was in
prison from a 2000 conviction on unrelated charges of attempted
burglary, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen
property at the time the database hit was made.
"Judge gives 165 years to man
in sex attacks." Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 8,
In Alaska, a judge sentenced a man to 25 years for the
rape and assault of a university student. When the assault
occurred, an innocent man was initially charged after being
wrongly identified by witnesses as the attacker. However, a DNA
sample from the suspect did not match the evidence and the man
was released. Subsequently, police ran the DNA evidence through
the DNA database, and it matched another man's DNA who was in
the database due to a 1997 assault conviction.
"Alaska digest." Anchorage
Daily News, March 7, 2003.
In Canada, a cold hit on the DNA database has linked a
man to a string of unsolved rapes in the Toronto area. The man
had never been a suspect in the rapes and police said the role
of the national DNA database was "absolutely vital" in bringing
charges. The man had been ordered to submit a DNA sample after
an assault conviction last month. As of September 2002, the
national databank had profiles from 27,756 offenders and 6,385
crime scenes. That allowed 359 matches between crime-scenes and
"DNA Leads To Sex Raps." The
Toronto Sun, February 20, 2003.
In Georgia, DNA testing has linked a man to a 1977
murder, for which he had long been a suspect. Police always
believed the man had committed the crime, but did not have
sufficient proof until the case was reopened and DNA evidence
was analyzed with new testing methods.
"DNA technology leads to
arrest of man long suspected in 1977 Georgia slaying." The
Associated Press, February 25, 2003.
In Texas, a construction worker has confessed to nine
rapes and attempted sexual assaults. A tip from a victim and her
husband about the car used by an assailant fleeing a November
attack led police to the suspect, who was arrested after DNA
testing linked him to three rapes. When the attacks first began
to occur, police did not suspect a serial rapist, but DNA
testing of rape evidence at the state lab linked several of the
"Suspect arrested in rapes in
Tyler." The Dallas Morning News, February 27, 2003.
Crime Lab News, DNA Backlog
San Mateo, California is opening a new crime lab this
month. The lab is set up to analyze DNA samples as well as
blood, drug and human tissue samples for all of the county's law
enforcement agencies, which serve 22 cities.
"San Mateo County to debut
crime lab." Contra Costa Times, March 9, 2003.
In Missouri, a bill proposing construction of a regional
crime lab in Springfield drew mixed responses primarily over
whether the legislation could create competition between
existing crime labs. The bill would create a statewide crime
laboratory system by linking up existing labs in Kansas City,
St. Louis, Joplin, Jefferson City and elsewhere to better
process evidence in criminal cases. Southwest Missouri law
enforcement officials have complained that DNA evidence would
have to be sent to Jefferson City's lab where it could sit for a
year or longer before being processed.
"Crime lab bill gets cool
hearing." Springfield News-Leader, March 5, 2003.
Potential cuts looming for Michigan's state budget could
include the state crime lab. The article reports that the group
affected by such cuts will be victims and victims' families
awaiting the analysis of DNA evidence taken from crimes scenes.
The current wait for DNA analysis on homicides and violent
crimes is at least a month. Cutting a proposed $125,500 from the
$18 million crime lab budget could mean the waits for DNA
results could be longer. "The service we're asked to provide is
increasing and it's increasing at a time when we have less
money," said Capt. Michael Thomas of the Michigan State Police
crime lab. In 2002, his three labs handled 3,898 cases. At
year's end there was a 1,137-case backlog. The lab also could
get less training and might ask local investigators to send
their five best DNA samples instead of the average of 10.
"Agencies try to gauge depth
of cuts." Lansing State Journal, February 21, 2003.
In Michigan, demand for DNA testing is overwhelming the
26 DNA scientists who work at seven state police labs across
Michigan. The labs, whose backlog of cases numbers in the
thousands, are required by law to offer free forensic services
to every police and sheriff's department in Michigan.
"Addressing the backlog is a priority of ours and the governor.
We will look under any rock we can" to find more funding, said a
spokesman for the Michigan State Police. In the meantime, some
cities are paying private labs to do DNA and other forensic
tests. The backlog in the state's DNA labs has reached about
65,000 cases, including active, cold cases and database
searches. Thomas said they processed about 2,000 active cases
"Combing through the DNA
backlog." Detroit Free Press, March 7, 2003.
The Alabama Department of Forensic Science wants its
budget grant doubled to about $15 million. The Department needs
more personnel and better buildings. The increased budget would
allow the agency to increase its staff from 174 to 232 people,
buy equipment and reduce delays in lab tests that slow the
criminal justice system. Without an increase, the Department
will lay off scientists and cut services. Already, it takes
about two years to obtain results of a DNA test, although that
varies according to case priority.
"Forensics lab joins cash
rush." The Montgomery Advertiser, February 20, 2003.
In Louisiana, hundreds of men have submitted DNA samples
for exclusion testing in the hunt for a serial murderer. The
samples are being analyzed quickly, which is a stark contrast to
the over 10,000 samples taken from state prisoners and rape kits
which have not been tested in the state. One local crime lab
indicates that up to one half of the rape kits get backlogged
and rapes with unknown suspects "usually get put aside." Funding
is the biggest obstacle, and a citizen group called Community
Partners for Forensic Science is forming in Baton Rouge to
appeal to private citizens, corporations and politicians for
money to test the backlog of evidence in unsolved rapes. They
hope to raise $1.36 million for rape kit testing. In a pilot
program under way only in Iberia Parish, authorities sample
anyone arrested on a felony count, at the same time they are
fingerprinted. Police want to expand the program to all 64
parishes within a year.
"La. pushing use of DNA in
investigations." Sunday Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), February 23,
[Meanwhile], Louisiana authorities still have not
determined what to do with perhaps 1,000 DNA profiles catalogued
by the task force investigating the south Louisiana serial
killings. The samples are not eligible for inclusion in the
FBI's federal DNA database there is no other provision for using
them in the future. But in the meantime, "to destroy evidence
that exonerates somebody is just as illegal [as it is] to
destroy evidence that convicts someone." Police may seek a court
order to destroy the samples.
"DNA a legal issue in serial
killer cases." Sunday Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), February 23,
Challenges to DNA Evidence
The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the state's
crime lab operated under appropriate scientific standards when
it started using a new type of DNA testing on blood, hair and
other materials in 1999. The test has been used in about 2,000
sexual assault cases and about 300 homicide cases. The ruling
overturned an Appeals Court decision that found DNA evidence
should not have been allowed because the testing did not comply
with TWGDAM standards. Each specific test could still be
scrutinized in court to see if officials collected evidence and
performed the tests correctly.
"State high court OKs new DNA
testing method." Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), February 25,
In Arizona, defense attorneys are preparing to challenge
DNA evidence in criminal cases based on reports of contamination
in a Phoenix Police Department evidence-handling room. An
October e-mail from the room's supervisor that warned the
contamination could "seriously impact" cases, but officials
contend there's no proof that the conditions of the evidence
room compromised cases. Defense attorneys are calling for an
audit of police records to pin down what cases could be
affected. The majority of the problems were reported in 2002
from March to October.
"Phoenix DNA Evidence Under
Fire." The Arizona Republic, March 8, 2003.
Houston's city council approved a $75,000 contract with
Identigene to conduct DNA analysis for the Houston Police
Department. The Harris County medical examiner's crime lab will
conduct HPD's primary DNA testing, and Identigene will take
cases the examiner's office cannot handle. Some forensics
experts questioned HPD's choice of Identigene, saying it has
limited experience and there is a potential conflict of interest
because the company is vying for a long-term contract with the
department. The Council also approved a $ 3.5 million contract
with ReliaGene Technologies Inc. for DNA testing on
"non-suspect" cases and backlogged sexual assault cases.
"Council rejects request to
replace 250 city cars." The Houston Chronicle, February 20,
DNA Relative to Statutes of
In Oklahoma, a man charged in a rape for which another
man wrongfully went to prison lost his second challenge to a law
that lets prosecutors pursue old sex crimes cases on new DNA
evidence. The man's lawyers maintain the seven-year statute of
limitations for the crime expired Oct. 29, 1994, and a new law
that took effect in September 2002 "purporting to revive this
time-barred prosecution" violated the U.S. and Oklahoma
constitutions. The District Judge became the second judge to
reject this challenge.
"Man convicted of
second-degree murder." The Associated Press State & Local Wire,
March 1, 2003.
In New York, a man in prison for robbery has been
convicted of raping and robbing two women in the 1990s. State
courts have ruled that the statute of limitations does not apply
when a suspect was never identified. It held that law
enforcement has up to 10 years to prosecute suspects identified
beyond the statute of limitations. Prior to this conviction, the
man was due to be released from prison in two months.
"DNA Helps Convict Man As
Rapist." The Buffalo News, February 28, 2003.
In Florida, a panel of experts is concerned with a
two-year statute of limitations that expires this fall on
raising DNA challenges to Death Row convictions. Thus far, the
DNA challenges by inmates have been bogged down by disagreements
over how the tests should be conducted. Inmates say they want
independent examination of the DNA. Agencies, like the Broward
Sheriff's Office, say they should do the DNA tests. Of 123
recent death row exonerations, 25 are from Florida.
"Death of DNA law seen as
fiasco." The Miami Herald, March 7, 2003.
Constitutionality Issues Related to Offender/Suspect DNA
A suit filed by all convicted felons in New York was
dismissed after a district court ruled that DNA identification
was warranted due to overwhelming public interest in prosecuting
crimes accurately and balancing the welfare of society. The
inmates argued that their constitutional rights were violated
when their DNA was involuntarily extracted from them and placed
in the state's index, in the absence of a warrant, probable
cause or individualized and reasonable suspicion to believe they
committed a crime for which their DNA could be used to prosecute
them. The court found that DNA samples provide no evidence in
and of themselves of criminal wrongdoing; a convicted felon's
expectation of privacy in the identifying information contained
in DNA is particularly weak compared with those of other
individuals; and the intrusiveness of the program is diminished
by the blanket approach to sampling mandated by the statute.
Nicholas, et al., v. Goord, et al., No. 01Civ.7891(RCC)(GWG) (S.D.N.Y.
"DNA extraction from inmates
upheld in New York." Corrections Professional, March 3, 2003.
A New Jersey District Court has found that a defendant in
a criminal case does not have a constitutional right to DNA
testing prior to trial. In this case, the plaintiff was arrested
and remained in jail for nearly 22 months before all charges
were dismissed. The plaintiff alleges that, during his
incarceration, he requested a DNA test that he contended would
prove his innocence. Once the testing was finally completed, the
test results were "inconclusive" and he was then released from
prison. CASE-INFO: No. 02-245; United States District Court [DNJ];
opinion by Rodriguez, U.S.D.J.; filed February 20, 2003. DDS No.
"Jimenez v. State of New
Jersey, United States District Court, New Jersey." New Jersey
Law Journal, March 3, 2003.
Expanding DNA Database to Convicted
The Nebraska legislature recently held a hearing on a
proposal to expand the state DNA database to include all
convicted felons. The committee heard information gathered from
other states on the benefit of including all felons,
particularly burglary. However, cost is a significant concern to
the state. The sponsor has proposed that the state could collect
the DNA and store it until the State Patrol applies and receives
federal grants. In the meantime, he asked the Legislature to
establish the best laws it could -- "Let's do it right now that
we're getting in to the ball game," he said.
"Bills would establish
Nebraska DNA database." University Wire, February 28, 2003.
In Arizona, a Senate committee refused to expand the
state's “all convicted felons” DNA database to include all
felony arrests. The bill failed by one vote in the committee,
with all the Democrats voting in favor and the Republicans
voting against it. Democrats felt that including people accused
of crimes would help exonerate some suspects while implicating
others. Republicans had several objections which included budget
"Senate panel rejects
expanded anti-crime DNA testing." The Associated Press State &
Local Wire, February 26, 2003.
In Nevada, an Assembly committee has approved a bill that
would expand the state's DNA database by making it retroactive
to include offenders convicted before DNA profiling was common
practice. The bill would also include DNA from parolees who move
to Nevada after serving time for a crime in another state that
would have required a DNA sample if committed in Nevada. The
measure, however, only requires the sampling from people who
fail to register with local police - who must catch the people
first. Most people who fail to register are only caught after
committing another crime.
"Nevada Assembly to take up
DNA data collection." The Associated Press State & Local Wire,
February 26, 2003.
In South Dakota, legislation has been enacted to expand
the offender DNA database to include all convicted felons. The
final vote in the House had only 5 "no" votes, with 62 members
"DNA bill passes final test."
The Associated Press State & Local Wire, February 24, 2003.
Practices: Message From the Desk of the SATI Training Director:
SARTs and Collaboration By Joanne Archambault, Founder and Training Director,
Sexual Assault Training & Investigations
permission from: GW Medical Publishing, Inc. Sexual Assault
Victimization Across the Lifespan A Clinical Guide
It is important that all Sexual
Assault Response Team members; physicians, nurses, law
enforcement, prosecutors, community based advocates and state
victim witness assistance employees, understand the complexity
of a sexual assault investigation. Each one of these
disciplines may provide an important piece of the puzzle,
however alone; none of these pieces provide a clear and
credible picture of what happened. Juries must be provided
with detailed information that will recreate for them what the
victim experienced during the sexual assault. Only then will
we be able to hold sex offenders accountable for their violent
Rape Crisis Center and Victim Witness Advocates will be better
able to assist their clients if they have a thorough
understanding of appropriate investigative procedures and
possible criminal justice outcomes. Forensic examiners will be
able to do a better examination and collect evidence more
effectively if they are provided with crime lab results and
feedback when the rape kits they collect are screened for
evidence and profiled for DNA. Many law enforcement officers
and prosecutors believe that a forensic examiner can tell them
if the victim was “raped”. They need to be educated about what
information a forensic examination can provide, i.e., evidence
of sexual contact and documentation of injury that may be
consistent or sometimes inconsistent, with the history
provided by the victim.
Most importantly, law enforcement officers and prosecutors
need to remember that forensic examiners are asked to collect
forensic evidence which then needs to be examined by a trained
criminalist before a conclusion is made as to whether
probative evidence exists. However, the detection of forensic
evidence and its analysis is only one step in an extremely
complex investigation. Any evidence identified and
subsequently tested must then be assessed and interpreted
based on the history provided by the victim, witnesses and the
suspect’s own statements. It is essential to evaluate the
potential impact of all evidence. For example, the presence of
incriminating DNA evidence involving the sexual assault of a
child is often all that is needed since the suspect cannot
effectively claim the act was consensual. However, sex
offenders frequently use a consent defense in cases involving
adolescents and adults. In these cases, the documentation of
injuries, witness statements, and investigative tactics are
critical to the successful prosecution of the offender.
To date, law enforcement has been provided with limited
training opportunities concerning the forensic DNA revolution.
Many investigators are not clear about how DNA technology
might assist their investigation, nor do they understand what
scientific procedures might be used to screen and profile
their cases. Some agencies may only submit the victim’s rape
kit while others submit the rape kit and other crime scene
evidence such as clothing, foreign objects, condoms, seat
Contributing to the problem is the fact that some law
enforcement agencies have their own crime labs, others use
their State Crime Lab while others may use the FBI or private
laboratories. As a result, each of these agencies may have
access to labs using different scientific procedures to screen
and profile biological evidence. It is important to understand
what screening methods are available, and what methods were
used in a particular case, i.e., acid phosphatase, P30,
microscopy, visual evaluation, alternate light source
examination, Christmas Tree Stain, DNA, etc. In addition to
variations in the scientific methods employed by crime labs,
some hospitals and forensic examiner programs have conducted
their own tests such as pap smears, or microscopy in an effort
to identify evidence that might help shed light on the
investigation and the possible outcome.
When evaluating whether probative evidence exists, it is
important to understand the significance of the evidence
collected and the methods employed to screen and characterize
the evidence. Many other issues may also surface during the
course of a criminal investigation. The crime lab may find
DNA, however, a match in the state and national database
cannot be made and law enforcement is unable to identify a
suspect through traditional investigative means. A DNA match
may be made several years after the assault, and the victim
cannot be found or when recontacted, the victim may be
unwilling or unable to participate in a trial, often times as
a result of the sexual assault. In other cases, the DNA
testing results may refute all the other evidence in the case.
In many cases, the detective might conduct a thorough
investigation and the forensic evidence corroborates the
victim’s allegations, however, the prosecuting agency did not
feel that there was enough evidence to prove the case beyond a
reasonable doubt and the case is rejected.
Finally, it is important to understand the statistical
approach used to express the significance when two DNA
profiles match. Because of the various DNA typing methods
previously available and their continued evolution, cases
within the same series and year may contain different DNA
profile information. For example, PCR DQA1/Polymarker match
frequencies are commonly one in several thousand while Short
Tandem Repeats are one in several billion. In addition, many
detectives and prosecutors are surprised and disconcerted when
a lab report comes back simply stating that the suspect could
not be excluded or that the suspect can be included when we
expect to hear an unequivocal statement of confirmation.
It is essential to understand the role of the criminalist and
how he or she will be required to testify about their findings
in court. To successfully investigate and prosecute crimes of
sexual violence, it is critical we recognize the complexity of
these cases and the many obstacles we have to overcome to
prosecute sex offenders. One of the first steps is making sure
that we are providing multi-disciplinary training and that our
efforts to collaborate move beyond having a written protocol.
Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners must have access to crime
lab results, detectives should be able to communicate directly
with the Criminalist who is evaluating the evidence from an
assault, while Advocates should be educated about
investigative procedures and kept informed so that the
Survivor can be apprised of the status of the investigation
and her options at all times. If members of the team do not
have access to each other and the information we can each
provide, we are failing to collaborate. Without true
collaboration, the criminal justice system will most likely
continue to fail to hold most sex offenders accountable.
This article was adapted from the chapter on DNA Evidence in
Sexual Assault, co-authored by Joanne Archambault.
Copyright Notice: © 2003 GW Medical Publishing, Inc. All
Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission from: GW Medical
Publishing, Inc. Sexual Assault Victimization Across the
Lifespan A Clinical Guide ISBN#1-878060-41-4. Lead
Authors: Angelo Giardino MD, Elizabeth Datner MD, Janice
Asher, MD. Available at
Sexual Assault: A Comprehensive Color Atlas, Volume 2,
ISBN 1-878060-61-9, Lead Authors: Barbara W. Girardin, RN,
PhD, Diana K. Faugno, RN, BSN, CPN, FAAFS, Mary J. Spencer MD
and Angelo P. Giardino, MD, PhD, is also available, separately
or as a two volume set.
^top of page^
For a list of upcoming
conferences and training events, please view the
Resources Main Page