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What is a rape kit and how is it used in criminal cases?

One of the tools prosecutors use in attempting to convict defendants for sexual assault is the rape kit. These kits are used to collect forensic evidence obtained in a medical examination of the victim after the alleged incident.

Rape kits can include a variety of items depending on the state and jurisdiction, including swabs, combs, blood collection devices, and sheets used for evidence collection. Whatever the specific contents of the rape kit, the exams in which rape kits are used to collect evidence are performed by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) who have specialized training. 

One of the important aspects of the special training of a SANE is how to maintain chain of custody of a rape kit. Once an examination is complete and all the evidence is collected with the rape kit, the kit is stored to ensure that there is no contamination or tampering and record is kept of anybody who has contact with the kit to ensure chain of custody.

Chain of custody refers to the record of who had possession of evidence at all times between the time it was collected until the time it is offered at trial. Because of the risk that there can be contamination or tampering with evidence, maintaining chain of custody allows prosecutors to actually present rape kits as evidence in a sexual assault case.

In our next couple posts we’ll take a look at the problem of backlogged rape kits here in Maryland as well as how an experienced criminal defense attorney can help scrutinize rape kit evidence at trial. 

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