Attorney general sets new rules for rape kit handling, testing

By: - March 13, 2023 4:41 pm

Attorney General Matt Platkin said the new directive will ensure that rape cases will be vigorously investigated by law enforcement. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey will quadruple minimum storage times for some rape kits and impose statewide testing procedures that will limit law enforcement officials’ ability to leave kits untested under a directive issued by Attorney General Matthew Platkin Monday.

Under the directive, county prosecutors must store untested rape kits for 20 years, up from the five-year minimum imposed by a 2011 directive.

“It is imperative that we preserve survivors’ right to pursue justice at a time when they feel ready,” Platkin said in a statement. “The standards and procedures established in this directive ensure that if or when that time comes — whether it’s immediately after an assault or years down the road — their cases will be vigorously investigated by law enforcement.”

Rape kits are only tested with the victim’s consent. Without consent, the kits are held in storage, usually by county prosecutors but sometimes by other law enforcement units. If the victim is a minor, the 20-year retainment period begins once they reach the age of 18.

The new 20-year retainment period will apply to untested kits and in cases where a victim allows police to take their samples but withdraws consent before their rape kit is processed by a lab.

The directive also lays out storage standards that require officials to create electronic tracking systems to monitor which personnel handles an individual rape kit and guard victims’ identities. It requires law enforcement agencies to report their inventory of rape kits to the state every two years.

The storage standards include temperature guidelines for various types of biological samples and requires such samples to be submitted to a laboratory within 10 days of collection.

“Expanding the retention of DNA and other medical records puts New Jersey in line with the national retention standard, affording forensic examiners and their teams an appropriate amount of time to assist victims and see that justice is served on their behalf,” Kendra Hyland, a forensic nurse examiner at the Hudson County Prosecutor’s office, said in a statement provided by Platkin’s office.

The directive will also bar officials from leaving rape kits untested because they believe the sexual encounter was consensual, they lack any suspects, or the victim’s alleged perpetrator is their spouse.

According to a survey of county prosecutor offices and police departments released alongside Platkin’s directive, those reasons were cited for roughly 19% of untested kits reported by 146 law enforcement agencies that took part in the survey.

The state’s violence intervention and victim assistance division, which was formed last September, aided in drafting the directive, and the survey informed many of its policy prescriptions.

The survey found while most prosecutors’ offices had established procedures for handling rape kits, four of the state’s 21 counties lacked specific procedures for handling or logging kits, six had no formal tracking process, and nine counties had no testing procedures in place.

Just five county prosecutors’ offices had developed procedures requiring victims to be notified when their rape kit was being tested.

Police departments fared worse across those measures — only 45% had written rules on handling rape kits, for example — but those departments must also comply with guidelines enacted by their county’s prosecutors.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.