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Post-Conviction DNA Testing

NCJ Number
Betty Fitterman
Date Published
April 2006
3 pages
This article briefly revisits a few compelling cases and reports on recent events associated with statutory standards covering postconviction testing.
Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio and several other States recently reviewed their statutory standards covering postconviction testing--particularly DNA testing--to test biological evidence using modern scientific technology or biological evidence not available at the time of a defendant’s original trial or conviction. Since the mid-1990s, improvements and accuracy in testing have advanced DNA evidence as the scientific standard used to prove guilt or innocence in investigations and trials. Every State has passed legislation requiring DNA collection from criminals which has solved thousands of cold cases across the country. Yet authorization for postconviction testing of untested biological evidence remains difficult for the majority of petitioners to obtain. The Justice for All Act (JFAA) enacted by Congress in 2004 includes less restrictive procedures for granting postconviction DNA testing to all Federal prisoners and is hailed by advocates as a model statute for States to follow. Many States continue to resist enacting or amending statutes to expand postconviction testing using new or substantially improved science. Since 1989, when The Innocence Project began advocating for DNA testing of critical evidence to potentially exonerate inmates, 175 defendants have been deemed not guilty of the crime for which they have spent years incarcerated. Fears that postconviction testing would open a “floodgate of frivolous claims” and overburden the criminal justice system have proven unfounded. Similar renewed interest in postconviction testing is probably attributable to The Innocence Protection Act (IPA), enacted in 2004 as part of the larger JFAA, which offers incentives for State’s willing to pass or improve statutes to conform to provisions for postconviction DNA testing specified in the Act. The law provides funding for postconviction DNA testing, and State grants to improve the quality of death penalty trials and assist families of victims. References