Measure Calls for Retention of Biological Evidence While Convicted Person Remains in Custody
(TRENTON) – Legislation Assemblyman Gordon Johnson sponsored to prohibit law enforcement agencies in New Jersey from destroying rape kits if the defendant is on trial, in prison or on a sex offender registry cleared the General Assembly on Thursday, 70-0-1. It will now go to the Governor for further consideration.
Currently, a rape kit must be retained for five years after the date of the defendant’s conviction or until the end of his or her sentence, whichever is later.
“This is about sexual assault survivors’ civil rights as much as it is about the civil rights of those who are wrongfully convicted of heinous crimes,” said Johnson (D-Bergen), a former county sheriff. “Simple but crucial enhancements to protocols for properly preserving biological evidence can solve old crimes, enhance public safety and settle claims of innocence.”
The bill (A-1400) would require every law enforcement agency in New Jersey to preserve any biological evidence secured in relation to an investigation or prosecution of a crime while the crime remains unsolved or the person convicted of the crime remains incarcerated, civilly committed, on parole or probation or subject to sex offender registration. The legislation also would require law enforcement agencies to preserve evidence while all co-defendants remain in custody.
As per the legislation, “biological evidence” includes any item that contains blood, semen, hair, saliva, skin tissue, fingernail scrapings, bone, bodily fluids or other identifiable biological material that was collected as part of the criminal investigation or may reasonably be used to incriminate or exculpate any person for the offense. Such evidence may be catalogued separately, such as on a slide or swab or in a test tube, or be present on other evidence, including, but not limited to, clothing, ligatures, bedding or other household material, drinking cups, and cigarettes. The term also includes the contents of a sexual assault examination kit.
“Law enforcement agencies often have a hard time solving cases because evidence that was a key piece of the puzzle was destroyed,” said Johnson. “Requiring agencies to retain that evidence can prevent the loss of valuable law enforcement time and effort.”
Under the bill, biological evidence may be destroyed before the crime is solved or the person is released from custody under certain limited conditions if proper notice is given to the appropriate parties.
A person who by virtue of employment, or official position, has possession of, or access to, biological evidence and destroys that evidence is guilty of a disorderly person’s offense.
The Division of Criminal Justice would be required to develop standards for collecting, retaining, and cataloguing biological evidence; recommend practices, protocols, models, and resources for cataloguing and accessing this evidence; and conduct training programs for law enforcement officers and other employees charged with preserving and cataloguing the evidence.
The measure was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on May 11. It was approved by the full Senate last December.