Despite the widespread acceptance of DNA testing as a powerful form of evidence that can conclusively reveal guilt or innocence, people in prison who maintain their innocence are being denied access to testing.
Although 48 states have some form of law permitting inmates’ access to DNA testing, the laws are limited in scope and requests for testing are often denied.
An op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times
said the criminal justice system isn’t fair when it comes to access to DNA testing.
Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli, coauthors of the book ” Genetic Justice: DNA Databanks, Criminal Investigation, and Civil Liberties” attributed the problem to lack of available crime scene evidence available for testing. Approximately half of the states have created legislation providing for preservation of evidence upon conviction of a defendant. But, most of these laws are limited in a variety of ways.
In a 2009 case involving a convicted rapist who had requested DNA testing, the Supreme Court held that the man had “no constitutional right to obtain post-conviction access to the state’s evidence for DNA testing.”
Even when evidence is available and testing is done that shows a defendant’s DNA profile does not match that of the perpetrator, authorities are often reluctant to free those who were wrongly convicted. In the case of Darryl Hunt, who was convicted in 1984 for the rape and murder of a female reporter in North Carolina, DNA testing proved that Hunt’s sperm did not match that found on the victim’s body. Nonetheless, the North Carolina
Supreme Court argued that the burden for a new trial based on post-conviction evidence – even DNA – requires a “truly persuasive demonstration of actual innocence.” Hunt’s legal team was forced to begin conducting surreptitious DNA tests in search of the real perpetrator. Eventually, through Hunt’s legal team’s findings and police cooperation, the real perpetrator was found, and he confessed to the crime. Hunt was released after spending 18 years in prison.
According to Krimsky and Simoncelli, an effective post-conviction DNA statute must: 1.) allow testing in any case where DNA testing can establish innocence, even if the person pled guilty, and 2.) require states to preserve biological evidence. When procedural bars to DNA testing are eliminated the full potential of DNA testing overturning wrongful convictions will be realized.