A recent article published by USA Facts reported that at least 25,000 untested rape kits sat in law enforcement agencies awaiting processing in 2022. Due to this backlog, many alleged victims have begun using commercial rape kits to collect evidence on their own following an assault.
In August of 2023, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown issued a response to the trend of “DIY rape kits,” declaring them as inadmissible in Maryland court cases. There are multiple factors that play into the Attorney General’s decision, which we’ll detail below.
Chain of custody issues
In the world of criminal defense cases, maintaining a strict chain of custody is paramount to avoid tampering with evidence. In basic terms, chain of custody refers to an official record of production, handling, and disposition of evidence in a case. When a rape kit is completed within a law enforcement agency, a chain of custody is kept by default, whereas rape kits completed at home cannot provide the same level of security in maintaining the chain of custody, because that official documentation doesn’t exist.
In other words, there’s no official “proof” of who completed the rape kit and when, which can pose serious issues when it comes to the integrity of the evidence.
Because they’re meant to be completed by normal civilians, the administering of a DIY rape kit lacks the expertise and precision of a trained medical professional, who would be collecting an “official” rape kit through a law enforcement agency. Collecting physical evidence from a victim of sexual assault requires specialized medical knowledge to ensure the reliability of the evidence. Any mishandling or contamination could compromise the integrity of the evidence, making it null and void in court.
Furthermore, testimony from the medical professional who administered an official rape kit often proves incredibly valuable in a sexual assault case, and this resource obviously goes out the window when a rape kit is completed at home by an alleged victim.
Legal standard issues
Maryland law has specific requirements for the collection and preservation of evidence in sexual assault cases, similar to the aforementioned “chain of custody.” DIY kits do not meet these legal standards, making it challenging to admit the evidence in court.
While DIY rape kits may seem like a proactive measure for victims of sexual assault, their use as admissible evidence in Maryland remains impossible. As such, the best course of action for those who suffered an alleged assault is to immediately go their nearest hospital and have an official rape kit collected by a supervised medical professional.