Timothy O. McCalep

Rape kits and the potential limitations of DNA evidence, P.2

In our last post, we began looking at the issue of rape kit testing, and the importance of working with experienced criminal defense counsel to careful scrutinize the reliability of rape kit testing in sexual assault cases. At the center of the issue is the principle of reliability.

In any criminal case, prosecutors are required to present sufficient evidence in support of each and every criminal charge against the defendant. To meet the burden of proof, the evidence presented must meet certain standards. It must, first of all, be relevant to material issues in the case. It must also not be unfairly prejudicial, meaning that its value for proving a relevant issue in the case must not be outweighed by some other factor, such as the risk of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, misleading the jury, wasting time, or presenting cumulative evidence. 

A third and very important requirement is that the evidence presented in support of charges must be reliable. The reliability of DNA evidence, as we’ve noted, too often goes unquestioned, but this shouldn’t be the case in a thorough criminal defense. A criminal defense attorney who is committed to his or her client’s rights will carefully examine the evidence and scrutinize its reliability, and will take appropriate steps to ensure the court is made aware of any issues concerning reliability.

The reliability of DNA evidence, including evidence gathered from rape kits, certainly shouldn’t be questioned lightly, but it is not unassailable. When a defendant’s freedom or life is at stake, it is imperative that the government is held to its full burden of proof, and this can and should involve questioning the reliability and therefore evidentiary value of DNA evidence, when appropriate. 

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