DIY rape kits have been developed in response to concerns that many rape victims don’t go to the emergency room of their local hospitals. ER staffs are trained to provide rape testing for victims. The emergency room tests are reliable, the staff understands how to implement them, and the evidence is then kept securely by the ER staff until the results can be handed over to law enforcement.

Proponents of the DIY rape kits argue their kits are useful for victims who are afraid, but in reality, these kits violate basic chain-of-custody protocol and are unreliable.

What is a rape kit?

A rape kit is a set of items designed to take samples of DNA to identify the perpetrator of a sexual assault. They often contain evidence bags, swabs, slides, labels, combs, and other sterile tools. The samples are collected by trained medical professionals.

Why DIY rape kits will do more harm than good

Michigan Attorney General Nessel recently explained a number of those problems to the Detroit Free Press, starting with the false sense of security that victims may feel, “thinking that an at-home-do-it-yourself sexual assault kit will stand up in court,” when it won’t because of the issues with the chain of custody.

Chain of custody is a key element in introducing evidence into court. It is designed to protect the accused by ensuring that any collected evidence hasn’t been tampered with in any way. It’s a rigorous process. A DIY rape kit sample could be contaminated at any time, which means it cannot be used as reliable evidence for the victim or the accused.

Furthermore, the DIY labs that test the sample will most likely not have access to the Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS. CODIS is an FBI-created national database used to identify unknown perpetrators and repeat offenders and store other critical information.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – a DIY kit is no substitute for medical treatment and professional counsel. Doctors identify injuries and treat them, and perform testing for pregnancy and STDs. They have access to resources for the victims, too, and often hold the kits for as long as the patient requests, so that he or she is not forced into the court system the moment the test is completed.

And unlike a DIY test, rape kits at hospitals are free: there is no cost to the victim at all.

We understand that the sample collecting process can feel invasive, and it can be incredibly hard for survivors to undergo this kind of testing so soon after a trauma. But we also know that if these samples are contaminated, victims may not find justice, and innocent people could be implicated in crimes they didn’t commit.

A major part of criminal defense cases is working to exclude improperly obtained evidence and unreliable evidence. This includes evidence that violates the chain of custody and evidence that is improperly seized. To learn more about the process, or to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer serving Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding Tennessee locations, please call Delius & McKenzie, PLLC at (865) 428-8780, or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.