TRENTON - New Jersey officials will be required to keep sexual-assault medical examination evidence, including DNA results, for at least five years if an accuser does not press charges, under guidelines announced Thursday.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman announced the directive in a letter to county prosecutors and sheriffs, the state police, and the Division of Criminal Justice.
Previous guidelines required sexual-assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kits to be kept for at least 90 days to allow a victim time to decide whether to report the crime and release the evidence to law enforcement.
Victims of sexual assault "may be reluctant to expose themselves to further emotional stress by participating in a criminal prosecution," Hoffman said. "Their minds can change over time, however, and these new guidelines will ensure that victims and law enforcement will not be foreclosed from seeking justice because evidence is destroyed."
After five years, the state will have the ability to claim the evidence from county prosecutors and continue to preserve it.
Medical evidence collected in the case of a minor will be retained at least five years after the accuser turns 18.
Hoffman noted that some county prosecutors had been retaining medical evidence beyond the 90-day minimum time period and that the directive announced Thursday would ensure consistency across the state.
"The option to prosecute a sex offender should not be foreclosed because relevant inculpatory or exculpatory evidence was destroyed based on the victim's initial reticence to report the crime to law enforcement," he said.