None of the 215 people exonerated by DNA testing would have been cleared if their evidence had been tossed in a dumpster, and they are certainly not the only people ever convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. Alaska is one of 18 states that has not had a person exonerated by DNA evidence. Is that because Alaska only convicts the guilty? Or is it because defendants challenging their convictions learn that the evidence is gone and there’s no chance for testing?
Bill Oberly, the interim director of the Alaska Innocence Project, wrote in yesterday’s Anchorage Daily News that state lawmakers should ensure that biological evidence from crime scenes is saved:
The Alaska Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals incarcerated by the State of Alaska and to work to prevent wrongful convictions in the future. As part of this work, the Alaska Innocence Project proposes legislation that mandates preservation of evidence collected during an investigation and used to convict a person.
In this emerging era of DNA evidence, the power and usefulness of such evidence increases daily. Not only can innocence claims like that of Charles Chatman be settled but cold cases with no suspects can be solved. To make any good of this work, however, the evidence must be preserved.
Innocent people should not be in jail for crimes they did not commit, and guilty people should not be able to go free at the expense of those wrongfully convicted. The Alaska Innocence Project is working to bring Alaska forward to where 27 other states and the federal government have moved. For the sake of even one Alaskan like (Texas exoneree) Charles Chatman, the Alaska Innocence Project urges the Legislature to pass an evidence preservation statute as soon as possible.
Read the full op-ed here
. (Anchorage Daily News, 04/09/2008)