On September 1, 2019, a new law went into effect that halts the statute of limitations for some sexual assault cases and extends it for others. The measure was written by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, and was named after Lavinia Masters, whose rape kit went untested for over 20 years. Lawmakers said the new legislation would eliminate the backlog of DNA testing in the state.
The statute of limitations is the amount of time the State has to file a complaint for an alleged criminal offense. If they do not prosecute before the deadline, the case could be dismissed.
Under the new Texas law, the statute of limitations has been lifted for cases in which a person claimed to have been sexually assaulted and was subject to a DNA exam that was never tested. The prosecutor can pursue that case until the kit is analyzed. The time limit halt also applies to situations where the forensic analysis was completed but the DNA did not match the victim or any other person.
For all other sexual assault cases, the statute of limitations has been increased to 10 years.
What Type of DNA Evidence Is Collected?
DNA evidence includes various biological material, such as:
- Skin cells
In sexual assault cases, organic matter can be collected in various ways. Alleged victims might undergo an hours-long examination.
DNA can also be collected from other objects in or around the crime scene, such as:
- Fingernail scrapings
- Ropes, twine
After law enforcement gathers the evidence, they transport it to a crime lab for analysis.
How Is DNA Tested?
There are various types of methods used to test DNA evidence, such as short tandem repeat (STR) analysis, Y-chromosome analysis, and mitochondrial (mtDNA) analysis. The techniques analysts use depend on the specific circumstances of the case. For instance, an mtDNA analysis might be used if the collected evidence could not be tested using the STR method.
During the analysis, the DNA is separated from the cell and then replicated using the polymerase chain reaction technique. This process is used to determine the length of a sequence of repeat units at a specific region – or loci. Each person has a unique number of repeats, and there is a 1 in 1 billion chance that any two individuals would have the same sequence.
After testing, a DNA profile is produced that looks something like a barcode. The analyst examines the profile to see how many peaks are on the chart – or electropherogram. Where the alleles are located helps determine how many repeats are in the sequence.
The analyst then enters the information into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which contains millions of other profiles to compare to. If there is a suspect in the current case, their biological matter will be collected and analyzed.
Is DNA Analysis Always Accurate?
DNA is one of the most delicate forms of physical evidence that can be collected in an alleged criminal matter. Any mishandling of the biological material could contaminate it, affect the integrity of the sample, and provide inaccurate results.
DNA evidence must be kept at a specific temperature; otherwise, it can degrade. If the collected matter was a liquid, it must be stored in a refrigerated or airtight container.
Additionally, the lab in which the evidence was tested must also follow specific criteria to preserve and protect biological material.
When DNA evidence is kept for decades, questions could arise about how it was collected and stored, and whether it can be used in a criminal trial.
Contact The Law Office of Rene A. Flores PLLC for Effective Defense
With the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases extended, prosecutors could pursue matters that happened decades ago. If DNA evidence was collected from the scene or the alleged victim, it’s possible that the biological material could have been contaminated and not provide accurate results.
If you’re facing allegations for a sex crime in Hidalgo County, our forensic lawyer-scientist can provide the experienced defense you need. We know how DNA samples are testd and the potential issues that could affect the analysis. You could be falsely accused or identified because of errors in handling the evidence. We will thoroughly review your case – looking at DNA collection, transportation, and storage methods – to fight charges.
Schedule your free consultation today by calling us at (956) 606-3606 or contacting us online.