March 9, 2014
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Handling Sexual Assault Cases
Handling Sexual Assault Cases
The Grand Jury
inquired how the District Attorney’s (DA) Office determines when to prosecute
sexual assault cases, and how many such cases are prosecuted annually.
The DA’s Office was unable to provide meaningful statistics regarding
the number of all rape cases it handled for the last five years with the
final dispositions (guilty, acquitted, dismissed, etc.).
During the Grand
Jury investigation of how forensic evidence is handled in San Mateo County,
the volume of rape cases reported by each law enforcement agency in the
county for the last five years, and handled by the District Attorney’s
Office for years 2000 and 2001, was obtained. Interviews with the District
Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, and several police chiefs and
their staffs provided considerable information regarding how biological
evidence is obtained, stored, and sometimes tested in sexual assault cases.
Details were provided regarding how decisions are made to file charges
and prosecute such crimes.
Grand Jury asked the District Attorney’s Office (DA) to provide the number
of all rape cases prosecuted by year for the last five years, with the
final dispositions (guilty, acquitted, dismissed, etc.). The DA obtained
data from court records by branch, but because of the fee to retrieve
the data, only information from 2000 and 2001 was retrieved. This data
was not reliable because cases overlapped in each court branch and over
calendar years. The DA does not track all of its cases by type of case
and final disposition. In February 2000 the Deputy District Attorney –
Sexual Assault Unit began a log of sexual assault cases and provided the
Grand Jury that data through 2001.
and Handled by the District Attorney's Office
The District Attorney’s Office stated that it determines whether to proceed with a prosecution based on an evaluation of witnesses and evidence. Within 48 hours of an arrest and prior to charges being filed, or prior to police making an arrest, the DA interviews the victim to see if the victim is convincing, reliable, and if there is other evidence. The victim’s ability to be consistent and credible, and their willingness to participate in the judicial process, are considered necessary in order for the DA to proceed. The DA stated that in many cases how well a victim will come across in court makes the difference whether a case is prosecuted or not. The DA also stated that victims who were intoxicated or on drugs at the time of the assault, and who could not accurately remember details of the assault, are not likely to be credible to a jury. In such cases the DA needs witnesses that can corroborate the victim’s story or evidence of physical injury to build a provable case. There are numerous factors to be considered when determining a victim’s willingness and ability to provide timely physical evidence and be consistent and credible in describing the assault. The DA wants to be certain it can demonstrate guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before a case is pursued.
of rape increased in San Mateo County, fewer cases were submitted to
the District Attorney’s Office by law enforcement agencies, and the
District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute a larger percentage
of cases submitted. Those cases prosecuted have an admirable conviction
rate of 87 - 90%. However, 23 months of data provided by the DA is insufficient
to conclude there is a trend. Review of the available data generates
numerous questions that could not be pursued within the scope of the
original investigation (e.g., Why are fewer cases being submitted by
law enforcement to the DA? Why does the DA’s Office decline to prosecute
half the sexual assault cases it receives?). Further review at this
time is hampered by limitations of the data provided by the District