Untested DNA in Hundreds of SDPD Sex Assault Cases Under Review

The San Diego Police Department is taking part in a new initiative to re-examine sexual assault cases involving untested DNA.

Victims of sexual assault often don't want to be part of the investigation. So the DNA evidence remains untested.

At SDPD, that accounts for about 500 of their 1,700 untested sex assault kits dating back 30 years.

"We really want to look at these kits one by one and make sure we're doing the right thing," said Jennifer Shen, SDPD crime laboratory manager. "As a department, we decided the best way to do this is to put together a working group that brought all of our stakeholders together."

The five stakeholders include a representative from the SDPD crime lab, the SDPD sex crimes unit, the City of San Diego Attorney's Office, the San Diego County District Attorney's office and a victims' rights advocate.

Shen said the five representatives meet nearly every week at SDPD headquarters and work together to understand each other's positions, to make the best decisions for the victims.

"We chose this category of (the 500) cases for two reasons," explained Shen. "One, we wanted to make sure we were following the rules: did a crime occur and can we put whatever profile we might get out of testing the kit into the database. Two, are we really doing what the victim wants."

The working group has reviewed about a third of the 500 cases, and will finish going through them by the spring. The cases that are selected will then undergo DNA testing, which is expected to take a few months.

As for the other 1,200 or so untested kits, Shen said in many of those cases, the suspect was already in the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), investigators determined there was no crime, or the victim did not want to file a police report.

"One of the things people sometimes don't realize is that in order to put a DNA profile into (FBI's CODIS) we have to follow certain rules," explained Shen. "One of those rules is we have to show a crime occurred. And the other rule is we have to be reasonably certain that the profile we have actually belongs to the bad guy."

The five stakeholders also plan to develop new policy, to ensure sexual assault victims have power over their own cases.

"The victim can stop her (or his) case at any time, stop her (or his) interaction with law enforcement at any time. We really want to respect that," added Shen. "The goal is to build this really victim-centric model when handling this kind of case."

A new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September requires all law enforcement agencies and medical facilities in California to inventory their untested DNA in sex assault cases, and explain why those samples were not tested. 

The agencies and facilities must submit their audit to the U.S. Department of Justice by July 1, 2019.

SDPD completed this task a few years ago.

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