Addressing the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog: Defining the Problem, Creating Solutions

general tweet from USA article

This post was contributed by  guest blogger Tara Luther in the Genetic Identity group at Promega.

In July 2015, USA Today formed a partnership with journalists from over 75 Gannett-owned newspapers and TEGNA television stations to “perform the most detailed nationwide inventory of untested rape kits ever.” This article told the stories of rape victims who had lost hope of seeing the perpetrators of their assaults ever being brought to justice, even though DNA evidence was collected at the crime and was waiting to be analyzed.

The journalists working on this story uncovered more than 70,000 neglected rape kits in an open-records campaign that covered more than 1,000 police agencies. The story notes that “despite its scope, the agency-by-agency count cover[ed] a fraction of the nation’s 18,000 police departments, suggesting the number of untested rape kits reach[ed] into the hundreds of thousands.”

tweet 3The USA Today effort led not only to national reporting but also to many local stories as well.

EndTheBackLog.org is a program sponsored by the Joyful Heart Foundation aimed at getting policy makers and prosecutors to address the large numbers of untested rape kits in the United States. They hope by researching to identify the extent of the backlog and publicizing that research they will begin a dialog at local, state and national levels that will lead to solutions for addressing it. The USA Today story and local stories have grown out of their efforts to call attention to this problem. Continue reading

The Reality of Crime Scene Investigation. Part II: The CSI Effect in the Courtroom

Judge talking to a lawerIn a recent paper, Evan Durnal from the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Central Missouri listed common myths that are created and perpetuated by crime scene investigation (CSI) television shows and summarized the effects of these shows on the judicial system (1). In part I of this two-part blog entry, I presented Durnal’s four categories of myths about crime scene investigation. In part II, I discuss the effects of these television shows on the judicial system, including jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials and the criminals themselves.

In his paper, Durnal lists four main categories of myths: capabilities, roles and responsibilities, evidence and schedule. These myths all influence jurors’ expectations in the courtroom and affect the roles, responsibilities and tactics of judges, attorneys and law enforcement officials. Durnal describes it thusly “Nearly all definitions of the [CSI] effect stem from and refer to the impact that CSI and related shows have on the ability of trial juries to objectively hear testimony and make decisions without biasing those decisions on information obtained outside the courtroom proceedings”. He lists a number of examples demonstrating the CSI effect, originally published by Willing (2), including: Continue reading