Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive Expands Evidence Retention and Revises Guidelines & Procedures for Retaining SAFE Kits
On Monday, March 13th, 2023, The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General issued Law Enforcement Directive 2023-1, which addresses the important issue of Sexual Assault Forensic Examinations (SAFE) Kit collection and testing procedures across the state. Law Enforcement Directive 2023-1 requires longer retention of DNA and other evidence from medical exams in sexual assault cases, extending the retention period from five years to a minimum of twenty years. It also establishes statewide guidelines for tracking, storing, and determining when sexual assault evidence is submitted to labs for testing.
This Directive emerged out of the results in a 2023 report on a survey of SAFE kits in New Jersey from 2018 through 2020. The findings from the report demonstrated a strong need to develop a streamlined, survivor-centered evidence collection process, and to improve access to medical, investigative, and support services for sexual assault cases.
The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault welcomes Law Enforcement Directive 2023-1 and recognizes the new guidelines as an important milestone and step forward in our efforts to improve and expand access for survivors of sexual violence across New Jersey.
Survivors have the right to decide whether to report their sexual violence and release their SAFE kit to law enforcement at the time of the exam. If a survivor does not consent to release/report to law enforcement, the SAFE kits are not reported and are stored anonymously as a “hold” kit for the new expansion of a minimum of 20 years. If the survivor initially consents to release a SAFE kit to law enforcement but then withdraws consent before the kit has been processed by the lab, the kit will be retained for the same 20-year period it would have been afforded if the kit were unreported.
Healing is an ongoing process, and every survivor should be able to lead their journey on their own timeline. We hope that the extended evidence retention period, from five to twenty years, allows survivors more time and autonomy in determining what decisions feel right for them.
The Directive is crucial to establishing standardized practice from county to county to increase accountability and ensure that survivors feel supported and have viable options as they navigate pathways toward healing.
We are grateful to the Office of the Attorney General for welcoming us as a valued stakeholder in the development of this Directive and for their efforts to improve options for survivors who may seek to include the criminal legal system in their healing process. As New Jersey implements these new standards, we remain committed to advocating for survivor-centered policies and procedures across the state.
For more information about Law Enforcement Directive 2023-1 and the updated procedures, please view the Full Directive available here.