|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced a new statewide directive that requires longer retention of evidence, including DNA evidence, from sexual assault medical examinations in cases where the victim initially chooses not to report the crime or release the evidence to law enforcement authorities.
Previously, the Evidence Retention Guidelines issued by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office required only that such evidence be kept for a minimum of 90 days to permit victims to change their minds about reporting the crime and releasing the evidence to law enforcement. The directive announced today by Acting Attorney General Hoffman revises the Attorney General’s Evidence Retention Guidelines in such cases to require that such evidence be kept for at least five years. After five years, the Attorney General’s Office will have the ability to take custody of the evidence from the county prosecutor and continue to preserve it. The change recognizes that victims should be afforded more than 90 days to make the difficult decision about whether to participate in a criminal investigation and prosecution before evidence may be destroyed.
“Our standards for assisting rape victims recognize that after suffering the physical and psychological trauma of a sexual assault, they may be reluctant to expose themselves to further emotional stress by participating in a criminal prosecution,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Their minds can change over time, however, and these new guidelines will ensure that victims and law enforcement will not be foreclosed from seeking justice because evidence is destroyed.”
“With this directive, we are better serving the needs of victims and ensuring that, wherever possible, we will hold perpetrators of sexual violence responsible for their crimes,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This will provide greater protection to victims and the public.”
Separate from the evidence retention guidelines, the Attorney General’s Office has Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault that define and safeguard the rights of sexual assault victims, including the right to a timely medical examination to identify injuries and collect forensic evidence. The Standards recognize a victim’s right to decide whether or not to report the crime to law enforcement and whether forensic evidence collected by healthcare professionals will be released to police and prosecutors.
Pursuant to the Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, physical evidence collected during the medical exam is placed in a Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) kit. These kits are referred to as “hold” kits when the victim has not made a decision to report the crime to law enforcement and release the physical evidence.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman is revising both the Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault and the Evidence Retention Guidelines to include the requirement that SAFE hold kits be retained for a minimum of five years. If the victim is a minor, the kit shall be retained for not less than five years after the victim reaches the age of 18.
In addition, the Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault are being amended to direct the healthcare provider to ask whether the victim wants to be notified at or near the end of the five-year minimum retention period. If the victim requests notification prior to the potential destruction of the evidence, the evidence shall not be authorized for destruction unless the victim receives such notification at the end of five years and re-affirms that she or he does not want to participate in a criminal prosecution. If the victim does not want to be notified prior to the destruction of the evidence, law enforcement will respect that informed decision and the victim will not be contacted again.
Only the county prosecutor or the director of the Division of Criminal Justice, or their designees, may authorize the destruction of the evidence. If the prosecutor determines to destroy the kit after five years, the prosecutor shall notify the director of the Division of Criminal Justice, or a designee, to provide the Division an opportunity to take custody of the kit and assume responsibility for its continued retention.
Several county prosecutors’ offices already were retaining SAFE hold kits indefinitely, but the new directive ensures consistency statewide in retaining these evidence kits.
A copy of Attorney General Hoffman’s Directive is posted with this press release at www.njpublicsafety.com.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked Assistant Attorney General Ronald Susswein for his work on the new directive.