The Los Angeles Police Department has admitted that inadequate training caused the destruction of DNA evidence from over 1,100 sexual assault cases. Detectives allegedly ordered the destruction of all DNA evidence over six years old because they were unaware that the California statute of limitations for rape had been extended from six years to ten years in 2001. The new statute extends the potential prosecution period to ten years from the offense, or within one year after a suspect is identified. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office estimates that destruction and loss of DNA evidence may have occurred in over 4,000 unsolved sexual assault cases in Los Angeles County in the last six years. None of the destroyed evidence was ever analyzed. This lapse in police protocol not only adversely impacts the thousands of women whose cases remain unsolved, but also affects innocent people who may now not be able to overturn their convictions.
Lack of DNA analysis in sexual assault cases is a widespread problem in police departments. Many departments claim that they’re unable to analyze all of their DNA rape kits due to lack of funding and costly analysis procedures. Considering that an average rapist commits between 8-12 sexual assaults before he is arrested, immediate analysis of DNA evidence is crucial to protecting women. In some states it’s even leading to indictments based solely on DNA evidence, regardless of whether or not a suspect has been identified, thus allowing for prosecution even if an arrest is made decades after the indictment. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York has authored a bill which will improve and standardize the process by which law enforcement analyzes DNA evidence from sexual assaults. The Debbie Smith Bill , which has been cosponsored by more than 100 of Maloney’s congressional colleagues, will provide resources for police departments to address their backlog of unanalyzed DNA kits, and will encourage departments to analyze each kit within 10 days of receipt. It will also fund the training of law enforcement officers and sexual assault nurse examiners, and will federally mandate the standardization of the DNA kits throughout the country. The bill, and its counterpart in the Senate, are currently under review, although hearings in the house have not been scheduled. If approved, the new funding would significantly improve the handling of sexual assault cases in the U.S.