A federal appeals court has ruled that people who were convicted of crimes using inconclusive or outdated DNA testing procedures should have access to new tests, regardless of the three-year time limit currently in place, reports the Associated Press
The decision handed down by the 9
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is significant because it opens up the ability to classify previously unusable or inconclusive samples as “newly discovered evidence,” which is not subject to a statute of limitations.
The Associated Press
writes that protecting the innocent was at the forefront of the ruling, which was made in the case of Bill Watson, a Montana man who was convicted of attempted sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl in 2006 and sentenced to over 14 years in prison. The Montana Innocence Project took up Watson’s case in 2013 and requested DNA testing of evidence which had been previously tested but was inconclusive due to the size of the samples and the capability of testing technology at the time. The Innocence Network submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in April of this year.
The request for new testing was initially denied by U.S. District Judge Sam Hoddon of Great Falls, on the grounds that three years had already passed since the evidence was first tested. However, the appellate court reversed that decision and granted Watson new testing in his case, reports the Associated Press
In the court’s opinion, Judge Andrew Kleinfeld wrote, “No tradition is more firmly established in our system of law than assuring to the greatest extent that its inevitable errors are made in favor of the guilty rather than against the innocent.” The court’s ruling will hopefully help to provide easier access to new DNA testing in cases that depend on it, and allow a greater number of people to legally pursue their claims of innocence.
Read the Innocence Network brief