Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog


Sexual Assault DNA Problems for the LAPD

Posted on: October 23, 2008 at 8:27 a.m.

Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys have been paying a great deal of attention to recent reports regarding the Los Angeles Police Department. As many as 200 potential sexual assault cases have gone without prosecution because Los Angeles police officials failed to meet legal deadlines to test DNA evidence that might have identified a suspect.

The audit revealing the failure in these sexual assault cases was the second critical assessment of LAPD forensic work in as many weeks. A confidential report last week disclosed shoddy work by the department's fingerprint experts that had falsely implicated people in crimes.

Chief William J. Bratton said late Monday that he had set up a task force to examine the Scientific Investigations Division, which oversees the department's fingerprint analysis unit and DNA lab. He said he had asked the FBI and Los Angeles County district attorney's office to join the task force probe.

The LAPD has a backlog of 7,000 sexual assault test kits that have not been examined. Of those cases, 217 are beyond the 10-year statute in which to prosecute the crimes, according to the report. Surely, many Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will want to know the names of the people named in these cases, as well as other cases where the statute of limitations may have passed on evidence.

Each kit, officials say, contains a potential genetic road map to the perpetrator of a crime.
Unlike the Hollywood portrayal of high-tech crime fighting on police shows such as "Law & Order" and "CSI," the LAPD's ability to analyze evidence seemed "stuck in an era of Wyatt Earp."

The LAPD has been repeatedly criticized for its huge backlog of untested DNA evidence, but officials have said that they lacked the money to move faster on the cases. Bratton said his department needed more staff and at least $7 million to address the backlog. Bratton said he was so frustrated that he turned to the Los Angeles Police Foundation to raise private funds. So far $1.5 million has been raised.

Now the unit that tests the kits is working at maximum capacity and is able to keep up only with the new cases and ones that must be processed because the statute of limitations is close to expiring.

Auditors also found that the LAPD was failing to comply with a state law that requires sexual assault victims to be notified by the police if their rape kits are not tested within a two-year period. Bratton said such failures would be among the issues that the task force would take up. If authorities had made those notifications the statute of limitations would have been extended.

LAPD officials acknowledged that some kits were beyond the legal deadline, but said it was possible that some of those cases had been prosecuted using other evidence. They added that some of the stored DNA evidence may be tied to crimes other than sexual assault.

The problem of untested DNA evidence is not unique to the LAPD. Forensic labs throughout the nation have been swamped by demands, not only from regular investigators but also from "cold hit" squads seeking breaks in long-dormant cases and from convicts with claims of innocence. According to U.S. Justice Department statistics, more than 500,000 unsolved crimes, including 169,000 rapes, have untested DNA evidence.

Tagged as: sex crime accusations







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