Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rape Kit Redux

It’s unfortunate that everyone seems to care about justice while few can agree even on what justice is. But some things are obvious – like the 12,000 untested rape kits held in Memphis Tennessee in 2013. 

That’s a number reported on CBS evening news this week.  And it’s not justice. When the red flag was raised on the staggering number, the county attorney general Amy Weyrich kicked up processing.  About 7,000 of the 12,000 were sent away for processing, returning about 3700 with DNA which could potentially be matched. 

The 3700 plus rape kits gave rise to only ten convictions, prompting  CBS reporter Jerika Duncan to comment: “That’s not a high number.” 

No, and it’s probably not any easier for the district attorneys in four cities with a backlog of nearly 29,000 untested rape kits.  That’s a whole lot of potential rapes in four cities (Houston, Memphis, Detroit, and Cleveland) even with a population as large as ours.  But when thousands of untested rape kits were processed, the number of convictions was remarkably low, around 1% . 

The one city where progress was made was Cleveland, where the state paid for the testing, allowing the prosecutor’s offices to hire 25 investigators and 6 more prosecutors. That resulted in 5000 kits tested with 239 convictions.

There are several reasons which justice will be avoided in thousands of rape cases, but an important one is that sexual assault cases have statutes of limitations. The rape kits are untested. Time flies. The states have limitation statutes ranging from 3 to 15 years.

It’s mostly a lack of money that allows rapists to go free. Lab fees for rape kit processing are in the range of $1,000 to $1500, according to  Labs are overwhelmed with all kinds of cases requiring attention. Prosecutions are costly, too, and, in doing battle with defense lawyers, there are no guarantees of victory.  Moneyed defendants can often outwait and delay budget-strapped district attorney’s offices.

But there is another huge reason why the number of reported rapes, and rape kits is high while the number of convictions is low. Unless DNA is matched to a person already in a police database , processing of a rape kit only reveals the DNA of an unknown person. 

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