Monday, February 2, 2009

South Dakota could get post-conviction DNA testing

From an article in the Argus Leader, a paper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

Some inmates in the state prison system could have DNA evidence tested to determine whether they were wrongly convicted if a bill in the Legislature becomes law.

House Bill 1166, introduced Wednesday, has four Republican sponsors in the House and two Republicans and one Democrat in the Senate. The bill would let felony convicts petition for DNA testing if the evidence exists and if there were questions about identity in their prosecutions.

Forty-four states, including Florida, have similar legislation that gives inmates access to post-conviction DNA testing. An effective post-conviction DNA access statute must:
  • Allow testing in cases where DNA testing can establish innocence – including cases where the inmate pled guilty
  • Not include a “sunset provision” or expiration date for post-conviction DNA access
  • Require states to preserve and account for biological evidence
  • Eliminate procedural bars to DNA testing (allow people to appeal orders denying DNA testing; explicitly exempt DNA-related motions from the restrictions that govern other post-conviction cases; mandate full, fair and prompt proceedings once a motion seeking testing is filed)
  • Avoid creating an unfunded mandate, and instead provide the money to back up the new statute
  • Provide flexibility in where and how DNA testing is conducted

The only worry in South Dakota appears to be that convicts who pled to their crimes will be denied access to testing. This is troubling because, as we know, people often plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. The only criterion for access to post-conviction DNA testing should be an inmate's ability to inject a reasonable doubt into their prior conviction.

Chris Hutton, the faculty advisor for the South Dakota chapter of the Innocence Project commented, "Everybody from the attorney general on down realizes mistakes can be made."

On a similar subject is a post in TalkLeft today about a new study that looked at how human error contributes to wrongful convictions:

It determined that the root causes of the convictions included errors by a prosecutor, judge or member of law enforcement, as well as the misidentification of the accused by victims or witnesses. The mishandling of forensic evidence and a reliance on false confessions from the accused or false testimony from jailhouse informants were also to blame.

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1American4Justice said...

I wonder how many inmates actually know that this is available to them in this state?

Unknown said...

I appreciate the author of this article taking the time to write and research the bill. However, as someone who worked on the bill, I can tell you for sure that inmates who pled guilty are eligible.