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EVAWI > Resources > Forensic Compliance > FAQs > Evidence Destruction
Forensic Compliance Frequently Asked Questions

Note: The information on this website is designed to: (a) communicate the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (as reauthorized in 2005 and 2013), and (b) offer recommended practices for implementation. The goal is to highlight examples of communities striving to achieve a higher standard of the “spirit of the law,” rather than simply meeting the “letter of the law” for VAWA forensic compliance.  It is critically important that readers consult state laws and regulations, as well as local policies and protocols, because they may have additional requirements beyond those included in VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013. For more information specific to your state or territory, contact the STOP Grant Administrator or coalition of advocacy organizations providing services for sexual assault victims.  A listing is available from the website for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.

Q What are best practices for evidence destruction?
Q Should victims be notified when their evidence is going to be destroyed?
A What are best practices for evidence destruction?

VAWA does not provide direction on the process or timeline for evidence destruction, in situations where victims have an exam but have not (yet) decided to participate in the investigation. If the victim never converts to a standard reporting process, it will be necessary to properly destroy the evidence that was collected and documented in association with the exam.

Law enforcement agencies already have existing policies in place to provide guidance on how to properly destroy various categories of evidence. The same policies pertain to evidence in these cases, to ensure that standard protocol is followed in terms of protections for confidentiality, sensitive information and bio-hazardous materials. Victims must be advised of the process, and the same policies for evidence destruction should be followed consistently, regardless of the victim’s decision regarding criminal justice participation. For more information on these issues, please see EVAWI's model policy materials on Evidence Retention, Disposition, and/or Removal.
A Should victims be notified when their evidence is going to be destroyed?

Some community protocols require that the victim be notified when their evidence will be destroyed – typically some period of time before the actual destruction (e.g., 30-90 days before the scheduled destruction in case the victim decides to convert at that point). Other communities have developed a protocol where victims are notified of the timelines for evidence storage upfront, so they are not notified at the time the evidence is destroyed. There is no clear standard for best practice in this area, as both options have advantages and disadvantages. In general, however, any multidisciplinary community protocol must include careful attention to the question of whether, when, and how victims will receive follow-up contact.

The Minnesota Model Policies for Forensic Compliance aptly note that some jurisdictions have decided against contacting victims due to the potential risks associated with re-stimulation of the traumatic event (p. 75). In contrast, other communities have decided that the benefits of reaching out to a victim and providing them with information that creates another opportunity for contact out-weigh the risks. Yet the reality is that victims are unlikely to convert to full participation in the criminal justice process unless they receive some follow-up contact from professionals (typically victim advocates) who can answer questions, offer support, and provide other resources to facilitate their decision making. That way the decision regarding criminal justice participation can be made in the context of an ongoing professional relationship, and not “sprung” on victims at the point their evidence is going to be destroyed. Of course, any follow-up contact requires documented consent from the victim.

For more information on these issues and sample language for victims, see EVAWI's model policy materials on Evidence Retention, Disposition, and/or Removal.
This project is supported by Grant No. 2013-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
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