Storage and Preservation Policy for Sexual Assault Evidence
[50 Pa.B. 4221]
[Saturday, August 15, 2020]
Under the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act (act) (35 P.S. §§ 10172.1—10172.6), local law enforcement agencies must take possession of sexual assault evidence obtained by a health care facility within 72 hours of being notified of its existence. Cases of an unknown jurisdiction are to be referred to the State Police. For those cases in which the victim has provided written notice of consent to the forensic testing, the law enforcement agency must submit evidence awaiting testing to an approved laboratory within 15 days. For those cases in which the victim has not provided consent to the testing, the evidence must be preserved and stored for a period of no less than the duration of the maximum applicable criminal statute of limitations, unless consent is provided before that period. This policy applies whether the victim is anonymous or identified and whether the jurisdiction of the offense is known. See section 3(c) of the act (35 P.S. § 10172.3(c)).
A victim may choose to remain anonymous and may also choose whether to have the Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) tested. Anonymity is to be maintained throughout the collection, storage and preservation of evidence process where required. An Anonymous Reporting & Testing Form (Form) is completed at the health care facility and provided to law enforcement along with the SAK. The Form indicates the victim's chosen course of action and documents both the patient visit identification number and the law enforcement agency incident number. The original completed Form is given to law enforcement with copies distributed to the health care facility and the victim. The Form is available on the State Police web site and the Department of Health web site.
The SAK should be tracked in a manner that maintains an unbroken chain of custody until final disposition. This applies to SAKs from identified and anonymous victims, regardless of whether the SAK will be submitted for testing. Tracking can be accomplished by using an evidence or law enforcement agency incident number which will allow the victim to be notified of the status of the SAK. For anonymous SAKs, the patient visit identification number will be recorded on the SAK and on the Form. The patient visit identification number along with the law enforcement agency incident number may aid in tracking.
Storage and Preservation
This policy provides guidelines for optimal storage conditions for the preservation of sexual assault evidence and applies in all cases regardless of whether or not a victim has consented to forensic testing. While there are many factors which may affect a law enforcement agency's ability to meet and maintain these conditions, every effort should be made to comply with these best practices for long-term storage. It should be noted that deviation from these optimal conditions will not preclude laboratory testing at a future time but may impact on the ability of a laboratory to successfully analyze any evidence.
When a law enforcement agency takes possession of the sexual assault evidence from the health care facility, the SAK must be in a sealed condition. The evidence seal should remain intact and only broken by laboratory personnel for testing the contents of the kit. In general, items typically collected in the SAKs manufactured in compliance with the minimum standards1 as provided by the Department of Health, under the act, should be treated the same as dry biological stained items and stored in a temperature-controlled setting (see the following definitions). However, to ensure proper storage conditions are met, the following information should be obtained by the law enforcement agency prior to taking possession of the SAK:
• Does the SAK contain any liquid blood samples?
• Does the SAK contain any urine samples?
• Does the SAK contain any wet items that cannot be dried (for example, tampons, used condoms)?
If the SAK contains any of these three types of items, then the entire SAK should be stored in accordance with the item's storage recommendation (for example, if the SAK contains liquid blood, the entire kit should be refrigerated).
Short-term storage conditions, as described as follows, should be maintained in evidence for 72 hours or less. Long-term storage conditions, as described as follows, should be maintained for evidence retained longer than 72 hours to preserve evidence integrity. Ideally, evidence should be stored under these conditions as soon as practicable once in the possession of law enforcement.
Short-Term Storage Conditions Matrix2
Type of Evidence Frozen Refrigerated Temperature Controlled Room Temperature Liquid blood Never Best Less than 24 hours Urine Best Less than 24 hours Dry biological stained item Best Acceptable Wet items (if they cannot be dried) Best Acceptable Less than 24 hours Hair Best Acceptable Swabs with biological material Best (wet) Best (dried) Vaginal smears Best Feces Best Buccal swabs Best Less than 24 hours DNA extracts Best (liquid) Acceptable (liquid) Acceptable (dried) Less than 24 hours
Long-Term Storage Conditions Matrix3
Type of Evidence Frozen Refrigerated Temperature Controlled Room Temperature Liquid blood Never Best Less than 24 hours Urine Best Dry biological stained item Best Hair Best Acceptable Swabs with biological material Best (dried) Vaginal smears Best Feces Best Buccal swabs Best DNA extracts Best (liquid) Acceptable (liquid) Acceptable (dried) Less than 24 hours
Frozen: Temperature is maintained thermostatically at or below −10°C (14°F).
Refrigerated: Temperature is maintained thermostatically between 2°C and 8°C (36°F and 46°F) with less than 25% humidity.
Temperature controlled: Temperature is maintained thermostatically between 15.5°C and 24°C (60°F and 75°F) with less than 60% humidity.
Room Temperature: Temperature is equal to the ambient temperature of its surroundings; storage area may lack temperature and humidity control methods.
This policy has been developed with concurrence of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, as well as in consultation with laboratories in this Commonwealth approved to receive sexual assault evidence, namely the Philadelphia Police Department Office of Forensic Science, the Allegheny County Office of Chief Medical Examiner Forensic Laboratory and the State Police Bureau of Forensic Services.
COLONEL ROBERT EVANCHICK,
[Pa.B. Doc. No. 20-1133. Filed for public inspection August 14, 2020, 9:00 a.m.]
1 Under 28 Pa. Code § 117.52(a)(1) (relating to minimum requirements for sexual assault emergency services), all hospitals providing sexual assault emergency services under 28 Pa. Code §§ 117.51—117.58 (relating to sexual assault victim emergency services) ''shall utilize a rape kit that complies with the minimum standard requirements developed by the Department or that is otherwise approved by the Department under the [act].''
2 Adapted from The Biological Evidence Preservation Handbook: Best Practices for Evidence Handlers, page 18 (http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2013/NIST.IR.7928.pdf) and the National Institute of Justice National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach, page 39 (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/250384.pdf).
3 Adapted from The Biological Evidence Preservation Handbook: Best Practices for Evidence Handlers, page 19 (http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2013/NIST.IR.7928.pdf) and the National Institute of Justice National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach, page 41 (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/250384.pdf).
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