When a person is accused of a sex crime, it is possible that there will be DNA evidence linking them to the allegations. DNA is a genetic sequence inside the cells of every person that in unique to that person. DNA can be found inside bodily fluids such as saliva, semen and blood. When DNA evidence is collected in a case of sexual assault the goal is to uncover evidence that will help create a link to the person who committed a crime by providing law enforcement with the tool, DNA, to demonstrate that is was a specific person and no one else who left behind their DNA on the body of the victim. In addition to helping discovery the true perpetrator to the crime, DNA evidence can also be used to rule out suspects.
When a person is the victim of a sex crime, often the investigation will include the collection of a “rape kit”. One common procedure when collecting a rape kit is to swab the alleged victim of the sex crime for DNA. A cotton swab will be swiped along the points of the body where the sexual contact occurred (usually, the mouth anus and vagina) in the hope that the DNA of the perpetrator can be collected. Often this DNA collection is performed by a nurse who specializes in sexual assaults or a sexual assault nurse examiner (a “SANE” nurse).
The protocol indicates that DNA is most likely to be found within a 72-hour window of the alleged sexual assault. When more time passes, the natural processes of the body such as urination a defecation will often wash away any DNA evidence. Actions such as showering, bathing or wiping can also rid the body of DNA evidence. Because of this, it is less likely that DNA evidence will be recovered in a case where the alleged victim, for whatever reason, does not report the crime right away. However, in cases where a victim immediate goes to law enforcement and alleges penetration and/or unprotected ejaculation, the likelihood of finding DNA evidence increases significantly.
Law enforcement officers understand what a powerful tool DNA can be in an investigation into allegations of sexual assault and will sometimes even tell a crime suspect that they have DNA linking the person to the crime. In most cases, it is very rare for DNA results to come back immediately. Testing DNA is still a fairly time-consuming process, which is complicated by extensive backups in the number of rape kits waiting to be tested. If you or a loved one is ever assaulted or accused of a sexual assault, it is unlikely that the police will have access to the results of any DNA testing until months after the rape kit has been collected.
Even if preliminary results indicate that there is a DNA match, it is very important to work with an attorney, like a skilled Decatur criminal lawyer, to verify that all of the proper procedures in DNA testing have been followed. This is especially true in cases where law enforcement is attempting to isolate one person’s DNA from a sample where there are potentially multiple perpetrators of the alleged assault.
Another scenario where DNA becomes an issue is when a sexual assault or molestation incident results in a pregnancy. It is then possible for law enforcement to DNA test the child and determine if the child shares DNA with the suspect. Essentially, this form of DNA testing involves a paternity test.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Andrew R. Lynch, P.C. for their insight into sex offenses cases.