Evidence Storage and Retention

The organization End Violence Against Women International (EVAW International) recently published online the seventh in a series of training bulletins designed to explore alternative reporting methods in sexual assault cases. This bulletin focuses on evidence storage and retention.


From the report:

How Long Should Evidence be Stored?

Such questions typically arise when the victim has had a medical forensic examination, but evidence could also be taken into custody by law enforcement in association with any form of alternative reporting mechanism (without an exam being conducted). For example, a victim who is making an anonymous or non-investigative report may bring in an article of clothing or bedding, have photographs taken of injuries, or submit digital evidence (such as cell phone data, photographs, or social media posts). Community protocols should clarify whether evidence can be stored and retained in such a situation.

Community protocols will need to address issues such as the following:

  • What evidence can be collected and stored?
  • How long will evidence be stored?
  • Will these policies vary for standard reports versus alternative forms of reports?
  • For questions such as these, the answers may vary by community and even by agency.

Evidence Stored by Law Enforcement

However, the question of who should store evidence should be more straightforward. We recommend that any evidence be stored by law enforcement, following standard procedures.

Even if a community offers third party reporting as an option for victims, the organization receiving third party reports will not generally have the capacity to store any type of evidence (unless it is a health care facility that can retain some forms of evidence for a limited period of time, before handing it over to law enforcement.)

Especially for victim advocacy agencies, it is clear that they should never assume responsibility for storing and retaining evidence. For one thing, they are not equipped to maintain the rigorous standards for evidence storage as well as proper chain of custody. More important, storing evidence would change their role from being an advocate for the victim to a participant in the investigation. This would compromise the nature of the advocacy role and jeopardize the confidentiality of all communications between the victim and advocate, including written records.

To address this issue, community protocols should include procedures for law enforcement agencies to accept, store, and retain evidence, perhaps by labeling and tracking the evidence with a pseudonym or other anonymous tracking number.

Much of the guidance on VAWA forensic compliance will be directly relevant for guiding policies and practices in this area. Detailed information is provided in our OnLine Training Institute (OLTI) module on this topic.

You can read the full report here.

Source: EVAW International

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