Access to DNA testing when it can prove innocence or guilt

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Access to DNA testing when it can prove innocence or guilt

Post  Yoke on Sat Apr 04, 2009 1:39 pm

Mississippi and South Dakota Pass Laws
Granting DNA Testing Access

We’re writing with good news. Yesterday, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour signed a new state law providing prisoners with access to DNA testing when it can prove innocence or guilt. And just last week, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed a DNA access law for his state. Innocence Project exonerations last year in Mississippi sparked the momentum for the legislation to pass there, and our staff provided critical support to help pass these critical laws in both states.

These two new laws mean there are 46 states in the country with such a law, leaving only four to go: Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma. The Mississippi law also requires law enforcement agencies to preserve biological evidence in unsolved cases and in convictions as long as the defendant remains under state supervision. Improvements to evidence preservation practices help solve cold cases and overturn wrongful convictions.
Not all DNA access laws are created equal, however. Even in some of the states that grant access to DNA testing, the laws are limited in scope and substance. Motions for testing are sometimes denied, even when a DNA test could undoubtedly confirm guilt or prove innocence and an inmate offers to pay for testing. For the details on your state’s DNA access law, visit our interactive reform map.

In states without a DNA access law, wrongfully convicted prisoners may not have an avenue to prove their innocence. In Alaska, for example, there is no known case of a state prisoner ever receiving access to DNA testing, even when it can prove innocence or guilt. As we wrote earlier this month, Innocence Project client William Osborne has repeatedly been denied access to testing and has appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld argued before the Supreme Court earlier this month that prisoners have a constitutional right to access to DNA testing that can prove innocence. A decision in the case is expected before the end of June. Read more about the Osborne case here.

When the Innocence Project began this work more than 15 years ago, not a single state had a law granting access to DNA testing. Today, with your help, we’re within reach of making sure all 50 states have these critical laws on the books. Access to DNA testing is only the beginning but for people who have been wrongfully convicted in two more states, it’s a gateway to finally proving the truth.


The Innocence Project — Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
100 Fifth Ave. 3rd Floor - New York, NY 10011. USA

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