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New sexual assault kit deadline may improve accuracy

Generally, a major part of a modern police investigation into a sexual assault complaint includes forensic evidence. This includes the so-called “sexual assault kit” or “rape kit,” which tests for DNA evidence left behind by the perpetrator.

Back in 2009, it came to light that the Detroit Police Department had kept more than 11,000 of these kits in storage without ever testing them. In reaction to this incident, the Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that sets a time limit for law enforcement to retrieve the sexual assault kit from the medical facility where the victim had the testing conducted.

Legislators titled the bill the Sexual Assault Kit Evidence Submission Act. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill at a ceremony in June, according to the governor’s office.

Many lawmakers likely voted for this bill to ensure more sex crimes convictions in Michigan. However, the law may also have the consequence of avoiding wrongful convictions.

When performed properly, DNA tests like those used in sexual assault kits can be more reliable than other forms of evidence. This means that the prompt use of kits may be able to clear the name of someone police suspected early in the investigation.

However, as in any testing procedure, errors do occur. An announcement from authorities that they have DNA evidence against a suspect is not automatically the last word on the matter. The suspect’s defense attorney may determine that it is necessary to conduct an outside examination of the evidence, which could result in a different conclusion than the government’s claims.

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