News 03.17.09

Mississippi and South Dakota Adopt DNA Access Laws



March 17, 2009 – The last week has been a good one for access to DNA testing. Two states – South Dakota and Mississippi – passed laws granting prisoners access to DNA testing in cases where it can prove innocence or guilt. When the Innocence Project began this work more than 15 years ago, not a single state had a law granting access to DNA testing. Today, we’re within reach of making sure all 50 states have these critical laws on the books.

On March 16, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour signed a new law providing access to DNA testing and requiring that biological evidence collected at crime scenes be preserved as long as a case is unsolved or a convicted defendant is under state supervision in connection with the case. Less than a week earlier, on March 11, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed a DNA access law in his state, as well. Oklahoma exoneree Dennis Frtiz was instrumental in the efforts to improve access to DNA testing in South Dakota. Fritz traveled to South Dakota in February and testified before lawmakers about his wrongful conviction and exoneration.

The blog Barbara's Journey Toward Justice has photos and more here

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Although

46 states

now have laws allowing some prisoners to petition for DNA testing in their cases, some of these statutes are unnecessarily restrictive. For details on the two new laws, and on the law in your state,

visit our interactive reform map

. The four states without any DNA testing access law are Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.

In Alaska, there is no known case of a state prisoner ever receiving access to DNA testing, even when it can prove innocence or guilt. Innocence Project client William Osborne has repeatedly been denied access to testing and has appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld argued before the Supreme Court earlier this month that prisoners have a constitutional right to access to DNA testing that can prove innocence is. A decision in the case is expected before the end of June.

Read more about the Osborne case here

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