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Sexual Assault Arrests for 10 Year Old Crimes: Cold Case Rape Kit Backlog Prosecutions in Dallas and North Texas

This summer, Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk announced that she had hired a new prosecutor and an investigator for her Sexual Assault Unit especially to try rape cases based on all the rape kits that are finally being tested here.  Dallas and North Texas should expect to see arrests being made in cold case sexual assault rape cases and increased prosecutions of these old crimes.

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What are Rape Kits? The National Rape Kit Backlog Scandal

All around the country, law enforcement agencies have been stacking up rape examinations “rape kits” for years. YEARS. After the victim was examined, and genetic material taken from them during the exam, along with fibers and clothing, the material wasn’t tested: it was literally put on the shelf. It’s argued that this stored genetic material, if tested, can reveal the identity of the suspect in the sexual assault.

But no testing means no identification. No identification, no arrest.

Back in January 2015, for example, it was reported that Amarillo Police Department had 700+ rape examinations or rape kits in storage. Still untested. According to an audit taken in 2011 by the Texas Department of Public Safety, the metropolitan areas with the highest number of stored, untested rape kits were: (1) Houston; (2) Dallas; (3) Fort Worth; (4) San Antonio; and (5) Amarillo.

Many may have assumed that after a crime victim submitted to a physical examination, the gathered material would be tested by a lab technician. Nope. Most of these “rape kits” were not; it was up to the law enforcement rape investigator to decide if the rape kit got sent to the crime lab.

Shocking to many, very often that decision was NOT to send the kit for testing. Hence, the backlog. According to the National Institute of Justice, in 2011, 20% of unsolved rape cases in the United States had rape kits that had never been sent for testing to gather the DNA evidence that might identify a suspect.

Which lead to a law being passed in Texas that required all these backlogged rape kits to be tested. The Texas Department of Public Safety was to gather all the backlogged rape kits from around the state and process them. Thing is: that law didn’t include any money for the DPS Crime Lab to do the work. So, things stalled out.

Then Congress stepped in and provided federal money so that the states could start working through the backlogged rape kits. Texas Senator John Cornyn led the charge here, and soon Texas had money for the rape kits to be processed. Private labs were contracted by the State to help handle the workload, like the Orchid Cellmark labs in Farmers Branch which handled the testing for the Dallas Police Department.

Clearing the Texas Rape Kit Backlog in Dallas and Fort Worth

Beginning around this time last year, the Dallas Police Department finally began going through rape exams and evidence that were as old as 1996. News reports were that the DPD was dealing with over FOUR THOUSAND of these old rape kits, 4140 to be exact, and covering the years 1996 to 2011.

Expect Dallas and Fort Worth Cold Case Arrests for Rape and Sexual Assault

Now that the crime labs are actually looking at the cold case evidence, things are moving forward. In our criminal justice process, just like on the popular TV crime shows, first the police work the case and go out to arrest their suspect, and then the prosecutors take the ball and run with it.

Which means that as the police start taking the rape kit testing results and arresting suspects, there will be more rape cases to be prosecuted here. This summer, the new DA expanded her rape prosecution team because it’s expected that there are going to be lots of sexual assault arrests made in Dallas County on these old rape kits.

That’s right: men (and presumably, women) may well be arrested and charged with felony sexual assault for an alleged crime that is almost a decade old. And that’s just in the Dallas County area. Prosecutions based upon old rape kits in these cold cases can also be predicted to happen in Fort Worth and other parts of North Texas.

Federal Money to Help Pay for Cold Case Rape Prosecutions

In fact, the federal government is all over this, ready to lend support to prosecutors moving forward on these old rape cases. Last week, it was announced that federal funding was being sent to the various law enforcement agencies with rape kit backlogs to help get with the Rape Kit Backlog problem.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office is reportedly get $1.5 Million in federal grant money to prosecute these rape kit backlog cases.

Dallas County is one of twenty jurisdictions around the nation that is getting the federal money. It’s expected that Dallas prosecutors are going to be working 400 or more cold cases over the next 18 months.

Rape Arrests — And Exonerations? Wrongful Convictions Can Be Revealed in Rape Kit Backlog Testing Results

What this means for Dallas and the North Texas area is that there will be a lot more sexual assault and rape arrests being made here and prosecutors have been hired specifically to prosecute and try these cold cases.

However, it may also mean that some lab results are going to reveal some dirty laundry in the system. It shouldn’t shock anyone to think that people in the past decade here in Texas may have been innocent and still incarcerated on a rape charge. These lab results may well serve to free them.

Think this is far-fetched? It’s already happened.

A man named Michael Phillips was convicted of raping a teenaged girl at a Dallas motel back in 1990. Phillips was African-American; the rape victim was Caucasian. Phillips told reporters that at the time, he took his lawyer’s advice to plead guilty on a plea deal because of the race issue: that a Texas jury might be racist and harsh in the situation, and he’d serve less time in the plea bargain.

So Michael Phillips took the deal and served over a decade behind bars. Then, because of DNA testing he was exonerated as not being the person who raped that girl in the Dallas motel so long ago. And he didn’t even know about the testing until he was notified of the results and that his exoneration was in process.

Read the story here.

With millions of federal grant money to pay for prosecution of these old rape charges, Dallas County should expect to see arrests being made on old sexual assault cases and prosecutors moving forward on these charges.   Criminal defense lawyers in the area expect to see this jump in rape prosecutions, even though the evidence may be dated.  Cold cases mean lots of concerns over the reliability of the evidence presented — witness memories change, people forget things, their recollections can be swayed over time, and documents can be lost, damaged or destroyed, etc.

There’s a concern about due process and a fair trial for some of the cold cases, obviously.

But you can bet we’re going to see more rape cases on the docket of  the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office Docket.  Let’s just hope that we also see some more exonerations of innocent folk, like Michael Phillips, as well.

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For more information on Sexual Assault Charges in Texas see our web resources page or visit Michael Lowe’s Case Results. 

You may also be interested in reading Michael Lowe’s in-depth article, ” TOP 10 MISTAKES IN SEXUAL ASSAULT AND INDECENCY WITH A CHILD CASES.”

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