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San Francisco police drop charges against woman whose rape kit DNA they used to link her to later crime

The practice could violate state and constitutional rights

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 18 February 2022 12:42 GMT
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Police have dropped charges against a woman whose rape kit DNA was used to link her to a later felony property crime.

District attorney Chesa Boudin said: “This practice treats victims like evidence, not human beings. This is legally and ethically wrong.”

The incident led to calls for reform after it was discovered that DNA collected as part of a rape investigation had been used to ID the woman.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin disclosed the controversial practice on Monday, saying his office had learned what happened last week. They will now begin studying the extent of its use and deciding how to handle cases involving this sort of evidence going forward.

The DA said that using highly sensitive information collected as part of sexual assault investigations in later police searches may be a violation of the Constitution and the California Victims’ Bill of Rights.

​​“The primary concern that I and my office have ... is with detecting and preventing future crime,” he said. “We want San Francisco to be as safe as possible, (and) we want survivors of sexual assault to feel comfortable and safe reporting and cooperating with law enforcement.”

By some estimates, nearly 80 per cent of sexual assaults and rapes go unreported to police, in part over fears of how law enforcement will handle such a delicate topic.

For the sake of privacy, the city prosecutor offered little information about the woman besides that she may be connected to a felony property crime. He added that the practice of entering rape kit evidence into broader police databases appeared to go back “many, many years”.

San Francisco police said they are reviewing the matter, with an eye towards barring using rape kit DNA in other investigations.

“I think the questions raised by our District Attorney today are sufficiently concerning that I have asked my Assistant Chief for Operations to work with our Investigations Bureau to thoroughly review the matter, and report back to me and to our DA’s office partners,” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott told The San Francisco Chronicle, adding, “we must never create disincentives for crime victims to cooperate with police, and if it’s true that DNA collected from a rape or sexual assault victim has been used by SFPD to identify and apprehend that person as a suspect in another crime, I’m committed to ending the practice.”

State senator Scott Wiener said the revelations could prompt a change in California law to prevent future abuses.

“Getting a rape kit can be re-traumatizing. Having that DNA placed in a database for future use creates yet another incentive not to do it. It’s unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday. “We’re determining whether a change in state law is needed to prevent this from happening again.”

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