Tennessee authorities increase focus on rape kit testing

Tennessee authorities are working on testing a backlog of thousands of rape kits; the results could have impacts on numerous criminal cases.

In 2013, a report revealed that Tennessee authorities possessed thousands of rape kits that had never been tested. According to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, in Memphis alone, authorities held more than 12,000 untested kits. Now, authorities are dedicating more attention to working through this backlog. This initiative may affect countless criminal cases involving sex crime charges in Tennessee.

Recent efforts

According to The Minneapolis Star Tribune, this local push for rape kit testing reflects a national pattern. In various areas, authorities are focusing on working through rape kit backlogs in an attempt to identify alleged serial offenders. Thousands of charges and convictions could result from these efforts.

Here in Tennessee, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation recently sought a grant from the New York County district attorney. If the application is approved, the TBI could receive up to $2 million. This funding could be used to outsource the testing of rape kits and accelerate progress through the backlog.

Early results

Already, authorities have tested a significant number of the backlogged kits in Memphis. According to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6,286 kits, which represent slightly more than half of the total inventory, have been tested. Based on the results of these tests, authorities have identified 52 suspects and made 92 requests for indictments.

Testing the remainder of the kits will likely be a slow process. The Minneapolis Star Tribune states that authorities will dedicate about 40 hours of follow-up time to each case. Investigations will also continue when DNA matches are lacking. As a result, investigations and associated trials could continue for years. The coordinator of the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force in Memphis estimates that the process could last through 2019.

Potential impacts

In some cases, the testing of old rape kits may help clear people who have been wrongly accused of sex crimes. However, this evidence could also prove damaging to people facing criminal charges. The effects of this testing may be especially extensive due to changes to state law made last year.

According to WSMV News, before the passage of legislation in 2014, the statute of limitations for sexual assault or rape cases in Tennessee was as follows:

  • Fifteen years for a Class A felony
  • Eight years for a Class B Felony
  • Four years for Class C and D felonies

These limitations still apply to some cases. However, the legislation makes an exception for all cases that were filed within three years of the alleged crime. For these cases, there is no statute of limitations. Consequently, many people in Tennessee may face new charges, even for alleged offenses that occurred several years ago.

Assessing accuracy

During the investigation of any alleged sex crime, it's essential for all evidence, including rape kit results, to be taken into account. However, accuracy is also an important issue. Like other evidence, the results of rape kit tests may not be reliable if authorities haven't been properly trained or haven't followed appropriate protocols.

As a result, anyone facing criminal charges that involve rape kit evidence should consider consulting with a defense attorney. An attorney may be able to offer advice on utilizing or challenging this evidence to present a stronger case.

Keywords: sex crime, charges, rape, arrest