There has been a lot of publicity in recent years about rape kits in Texas and the testing backlog.
While measures to speed up the testing have been called for in the state legislature, not all rape kits are the same. A call for standardized rape kits was recently made in an article in MySanAntonio.com.
The article noted some police departments buy rape kits off the shelf while other customize them to meet their specific needs.
One of those pushing for standardized rape kits is Nancy Downing, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing. Downing is also a member of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Downing was appointed to the influential commission last year by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
She’s concerned about the way evidence from the rape kits are being handled at different crime labs because of inconsistency. She told the TV station KXAN.
“Crime labs have their own favored analysis and their favorite process and even the nurses have a disagreement about which types of evidence to collect.”
Downing said a move to standardization would reduce the danger of contamination, leading to a faster and more efficient process and cut down on the risk of cross-contamination.
In recent years, Texas has seen major changes and improvements in the collection of rape kit evidence.
Up until four years ago, rape victims living in rural areas far from towns and cities would face a drive of hours to reach an emergency room with staff trained in the basics of forensic evidence collection. Now a law mandates all emergency rooms in Texas to have someone available round the clock to collect evidence after a sexual assault.
But while the collection of DNA is vital for law enforcement, there is still a wide variation in the level of training of medical staff who collect DNA. A standardized rape kit would make it easier to adopt consistent standards.
It might also bring down costs. Every rape kit collected can cost $500 to $1,000. The state spent almost $11 million in the last 10 years tackling a backlog of about 10,500 untested rape kits.
However, there is still a backlog of more than 4,100 untested rape kits in Texas and the state is considering spending more than $4 million more to address the problem.
Some extreme measures have been mooted to tackle the backlog including asking for donations through crowdsourcing.
It’s important to have consistent problems when evidence is being collected that can deprive a defendant of his or her liberty. Just like there are many inconsistencies in Breathalyzers, rape kits are far from universal.
If you have been accused of a sexual assault in Texas, you could be facing a long time behind bars. The Medlin Law Firm can help you.