Is there a backlog of untested rape kits at SLED, South Carolina’s state law enforcement agency?
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) handles the DNA testing for most of our state’s law enforcement agencies, including the testing of rape test kits collected in hospital emergency rooms around the state.
According to Fox Carolina, SLED has denied multiple FOIA requests since August of this year requesting information about the number of untested rape kits in SLED’s possession – why didn’t they want to release this information?
The media report says that SLED did provide some information after denying their FOIA request last week, saying that there are approximately 1987 rape kits awaiting processing at their facility.
Many of those 1987 rape kits may be for cases that cannot be filed or cases that cannot be prosecuted without a rape test kit result, and some may be cases where wrongful accusations have been made, and SLED is now sitting on the only evidence that could exonerate a wrongfully accused person.
SC Backlog of Untested Rape Kits at SLED
Are they doing it? Are SC law enforcement officials at SLED taking sexual assault seriously?
DNA evidence from rape kits collected in emergency rooms is one critical piece of evidence in any rape prosecution where the defendant denies having committed the crime (it’s difficult to argue you didn’t have sex with someone when your DNA is identified from a rape kit test).
According to the media report I linked to above, SLED reported that, as of October 31 of this year, there were:
- 504 CSC cases so far this year,
- 2543 total CSC cases pending (of which 2543 minus 504 = 2039 cases that will be at least one year old as of January 1),
- 1987 rape kits pending in those cases,
- 81 CSC cases “in progress,”
- 162 CSC cases completed this year, and
- 24 CSC cases completed in October.
2020 SC Law Requires a Statewide Rape Kit Tracking System – SLED Does Not Have One
A 2020 SC law now found in SC Code § 23-3-1300 requires SLED to “create and operate a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system.” It is mandatory (“SLED shall create and operate…”), and yet SLED still has not created a system to track rape kits.
The law requires “all medical facilities, law enforcement agencies, forensic laboratories, or other persons or entities that collect evidence for, or receive, store, analyze, maintain, or preserve sexual assault kits” to “participate in the statewide sexual assault kit tracking system for the purpose of tracking the location and status of all sexual assault kits in their custody.”
Three years later, there is still no statewide sexual assault kit tracking system in place.
Can They Prosecute Rape Cases without a Rape Kit Test Result?
Even more so than other types of criminal offenses, DNA evidence may be the best evidence available to the prosecution in a rape case. At any rate, a “whodunit” can become a “was there consent” type of case. In some cases, DNA evidence could be the “nail in the coffin” that changes a defendant’s strategy from scorched earth to mitigation and negotiation.
Some alleged victims of sexual assault know who their alleged attacker is and can identify them to law enforcement. Others are unable to identify their attacker, who may not be identified or charged unless they are identified through DNA evidence from the rape kit.
Identification using DNA from a sexual assault kit is not necessarily conclusive, because consent is almost always a defense to rape (there are exceptions like statutory rape and some types of CSC third-degree). But, without identification, many rape cases would go unsolved.
Untested Rape Kits are a Problem Nationwide
Untested sexual assault kits are not just a problem in South Carolina – it’s an issue nationwide.
USAfacts.org is reporting that, in 2022, they confirmed at least 25,000 untested rape kits were sitting on shelves or in evidence lockers in 30 states and Washington D.C. – this is only the data that was reported, and 20 states (including South Carolina) provided no data at all.
What’s the solution?
It seems simple. Test the kits. Now. Make it a priority and put your resources into clearing the backlog. Put a system in place where rape kits are prioritized and tested immediately when they come into the lab.
Justice delayed is justice denied, whether we are talking about a sexual assault victim or a defendant who may be exonerated by rape kit test results.
If our law enforcement leaders cannot do their jobs – which includes protecting SC citizens from sexual assault and identifying and prosecuting CSC offenders, we need to replace those leaders.
Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia and Myrtle Beach, SC
The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.