PUBLIC SAFETY: New Jersey’s top cop has ordered authorities to hold onto DNA and other evidence from sexual assault medical exams for at least five years in those cases when a victim chooses not to report the crime or release information to law enforcement — an enormous change over the previously mandated 90 days.
The directive by acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman revising the Evidence Retention Guidelines recognizes that victims should be afforded more than 90 days to make the difficult decision about whether to participate in a criminal investigation and prosecution before evidence may be destroyed.
“Our standards for assisting rape victims recognize that after suffering the physical and psychological trauma of a sexual assault, they may be reluctant to expose themselves to further emotional stress by participating in a criminal prosecution,” Hoffman ( pictured ) said today.
“Their minds can change over time, however,” he added, “and these new guidelines will ensure that victims and law enforcement will not be foreclosed from seeking justice because evidence is destroyed.”
New Jersey safeguards the rights to a timely medical examination to identify injuries and collect forensic evidence in sexual assault cases — as well as to decide whether or not to report the crime to law enforcement and whether forensic evidence collected by healthcare professionals will be released to police and prosecutors.
Several county prosecutors’ offices already were indefinitely retaining rape — or “hold” — kits. Under the new directive, the evidence must be retained a minimum of five years for adults. For minors, it must be kept not less than five years after the victim turns 18.
In addition, the Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault are being amended to direct healthcare providers to ask whether the victim wants to be notified at or near the end of the five-year minimum retention period.
If the victim requests notification prior to the potential destruction of the kit, the evidence won’t be destroyed until that happens and the victim “re-affirms that she or he does not want to participate in a criminal prosecution,” Hoffman said.
If the victim doesn’t want to be notified, “law enforcement will respect that informed decision and the victim will not be contacted again,” he added.
Only the county prosecutor or the director of the Division of Criminal Justice, or their designee, may authorize the destruction of the evidence, the attorney general said.
Any prosecutor who destroys a kit must notify the director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, or a designee, to provide the Division an opportunity to assume responsibility for it, he said.
Hoffman thanked Assistant Attorney General Ronald Susswein for his work on the new directive.
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