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Storage and Preservation Policy for Sexual Assault Evidence

[46 Pa.B. 7927]
[Saturday, December 17, 2016]

 Under the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act (act) (35 P.S. §§ 10172.1—10172.5), local law enforcement agencies must take possession of sexual assault evidence obtained by a health care facility within 72 hours of being notified of its existence. For those cases in which the victim has provided written notice of consent to the forensic testing, the law enforcement agency must submit evidence awaiting testing to an approved laboratory within 15 days. For those cases in which the victim has not provided consent to the testing, the evidence must be preserved and stored for a period of no less than 2 years, unless consent is provided before that period. See section 3(c) of the act (35 P.S. § 10172.3(c)).

 This policy provides guidelines for optimal storage conditions for the preservation of sexual assault evidence, and applies in all cases regardless of whether or not a victim has consented to forensic testing. While there are many factors which may affect a law enforcement agency's ability to meet and maintain these conditions, every effort should be made to comply with these best practices for long-term storage. It should be noted that deviation from these optimal conditions will not preclude laboratory testing at a future time, but may impact on the ability of a laboratory to successfully analyze any evidence.

 When a law enforcement agency takes possession of the sexual assault evidence from the health care facility, the Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) must be in a sealed condition. The evidence seal should remain intact and only broken by laboratory personnel for the purpose of testing the contents of the SAK. In general, items typically collected in the SAKs manufactured in compliance with the minimum standards1 as provided by the Department of Health, under the act, should be treated the same as dry biological stained items and stored in a temperature controlled setting (see the following definitions). However, to ensure proper storage conditions are met, the following information should be obtained by the law enforcement agency prior to taking possession of the SAK:

 • Does the SAK contain any liquid blood samples?

 • Does the SAK contain any urine samples?

 • Does the SAK contain any wet items that cannot be dried (for example, tampons, used condoms)?

 If the SAK contains any of these three types of items, then the entire SAK should be stored in accordance with that item's storage recommendation (for example, if the SAK contains liquid blood, the entire kit should be refrigerated).

 Long-term storage conditions, described as follows, should be maintained for evidence retained longer than 72 hours to preserve evidence integrity. Ideally, evidence should be stored under these conditions as soon as practicable once in the possession of law enforcement.

Long-Term Storage Conditions Matrix2

Type of Evidence Frozen Refrigerated Temperature Controlled Room Temperature
Liquid blood Never Best
Urine Best
Dry biological stained item Best
Hair Best Acceptable
Swabs with biological material Best (dried)
Buccal swabs Best
DNA extracts Best (liquid) Acceptable (liquid) Acceptable (dried)
Wet items (if they cannot be dried) Best Acceptable

Definitions:

Frozen: Temperature is maintained thermostatically at or below –10°C (14°F).

Refrigerated: Temperature is maintained thermostatically between 2°C and 8°C (36°F and 46°F) with less than 25% humidity.

Temperature controlled: Temperature is maintained thermostatically between 15.5°C and 24°C (60°F to 75°F) with less than 60% humidity.1 2

Room temperature: Temperature is equal to the ambient temperature of its surroundings; storage area may lack temperature and humidity control methods.

 This policy has been developed with concurrence of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, as well as in consultation with the laboratories in this Commonwealth approved to receive sexual assault evidence, namely the Philadelphia Police Department Office of Forensic Science, the Allegheny County Office of Chief Medical Examiner Forensic Laboratory and the State Police Bureau of Forensic Services.

COLONEL TYREE C. BLOCKER, 
Commissioner

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 16-2234. Filed for public inspection December 16, 2016, 9:00 a.m.]

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1  Under 28 Pa. Code § 117.52(a)(1) (relating to minimum requirements for sexual assault emergency services), all hospitals providing sexual assault emergency services under 28 Pa. Code §§ 117.51—117.58 (relating to sexual assault victim emergency services) ''shall utilize a rape kit that complies with the minimum standard requirements developed by the Department or that is otherwise approved by the Department under the [act].''

2  Adapted from The Biological Evidence Preservation Handbook: Best Practices for Evidence Handlers, page 19 (http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2013/NIST.IR.7928.pdf) and the draft National Institute of Justice National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach, page 35 (https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=OJP-2016-0002-0002).



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