New data released by various Maryland police departments show thousands of untested rape kits in the state.
Police and prosecutors attribute the high number to unfounded investigations, victims wanting to stay anonymous, and instances where police are able to identify a suspect through other evidence.
Steven O’Dell, the Baltimore City Police Chief of Forensic Sciences and Evidence Management, said the department simply can't test every kit created.
“It doesn't really sound like a nice answer. I think the reality though is that's the problem. Resources are probably at the top of the list as to being one of the testing obstacles,” O’Dell said.
Testing DNA kits are expensive. O’Dell said the private sector cost is anywhere between $800 to $1,000 and the cost inside government labs range from $1,500 to $2,500 per kit.
The time it takes to test a kit also varies.
“The testing of DNA is not like it is on TV. It doesn't take 45 minutes and five commercials, it takes months of really hard work,” said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger.
Officials said the limitation of resources is why untested kits have accumulated throughout the years. The total number of untested kits in Maryland exceeds 3,000. Montgomery County tops the list with 1,165; 80 of which belonged to “Jane Does.” Baltimore City had the second highest number of untested kits with 871.
“You're looking at over 30 years, and the largest category of untested kits are unfounded investigations,” said O’Dell.
The numbers in Montgomery County and Baltimore City date back to the 1980s.
“In that same time period there were approximately 7,000 kits, 871 that have reached the untested number. You're looking at in the upper 80 percentile or kits that have actually been tested. I think the number works out to be 88 percent,” O”Dell said.
Howard County has 503; 119 of them, the department is unsure whether they had already been tested or not. And 384 of the remaining 441 kits were because a victim did not want to proceed or they chose to remain anonymous.
In Baltimore County, 197 kits are untested. The spokeswoman for the department said none of the on-hold kits involve open cases. The 197 are either “Jane Doe” cases, cases involving named victims who did not wish to prosecute, and cases “where investigation shows an unwanted sex act occurred but does not meet the definition of a crime.”
Lisae Jordan, the executive director and counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the number of untested kits isn’t necessarily because of a backlog but because of policies in place that keep police from testing kits.
“You have to think about the survivors who got up on a table and put their feet in stirrups and had a very intrusive exam and you also have to think about the public who may be at risk of a sex offender if we don't test it properly,” Jordan said.
By testing kits of “Jane Does,” or women who decline to reveal their identities, Jordan said other states have caught serial rapists. However, without a victim, the state can't prosecute the accused.
“We miss every one of our first trial dates because our DNA is not done,” Shellenberger said.
Which is why he said there’s a need, as unpleasant as it may be, to evaluate the resources they have and use them to move forward with the cases that have a better chance of yielding a guilty verdict.
“Send me the money and we can hire people to test these. But I am only going to use my daytime forensic people to test cases where I have a chance of going to court. And if it's a “Jane Doe” case, I have no chance at going to court,” said Shellenberger.
The state's attorney general is reviewing all of the number of untested rape kits in Maryland and will release recommendations in December on how to proceed.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault and would like to look into what happened to your exam, the Maryland Sexual Assault Legal Institute can help you find out. Find more information about the Sexual Assault Legal Institute.