Innocence Project Advocates for Legislation to Strengthen Montana’s DNA Testing Law
(Feb. 19, 2015) — Today Keegan Flaherty, Executive Director of the Montana Innocence Project, Michelle Feldman, State Policy Advocate at the Innocence Project, and others testified before the Montana House Judiciary Committee in support of House Bill 516. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Margie MacDonald (D-Billings), would strengthen the state’s post-conviction DNA testing law to better enable the wrongfully convicted to prove their innocence and identify the real perpetrators of those crimes through DNA technology.
Specifically, House Bill 516 would enhance the post-conviction DNA testing law by:
- Creating a fairer standard for a court to grant testing if “there is a reasonable probability that the petitioner would not have been convicted” had favorable results been obtained prior to trial, which is the standard in 23 states.
- Allowing a court to order a DNA profile generated from a crime scene sample to be submitted to the DNA database to possibly identify the real perpetrator. The DNA database has helped to identify 104 real perpetrators connected to 161 cases in the nation’s 325 wrongful convictions proven by DNA.
- Removing the requirement that the person seeking testing be in prison to be eligible for DNA testing, which is not required in 37 other states.
“Courts have not granted a single request for post-conviction DNA testing under the current law—all three DNA exonerations in Montana occurred before the statute was enacted in 2003. Our proposal would enable fair access to DNA testing so that the wrongfully convicted, victims, and communities can get justice,” said Keegan Flaherty, Executive Director of the Montana Innocence Project.
“This legislation is about justice and public safety, because when an innocent person is behind bars, the real criminal could be out harming others. House Bill 516 creates a more reasonable standard for deserving Montanans to obtain DNA testing and enhances the use of the state and federal DNA database to identify actual perpetrators,” said Rep. MacDonald.
“Montana was one of the earliest states to enact a DNA testing law when I sponsored the measure in 2003. Now that all 50 states have DNA testing laws, we have the benefit of knowing which areas can be improved. This legislation would provide a clear path for deserving Montanans to access testing, which is what the original law was intended to do,” said former state Senator Larry Jent, who authored the state’s original law and currently serves on the Montana Innocence Project’s board of directors.
“Everyone has an interest in making sure the right person is convicted. Real criminals were identified in 161 of the nation’s 325 DNA exoneration cases, and they went on to be convicted of 145 additional crimes—including 78 rapes and 34 murders—while the innocent person was behind bars,” said Michelle Feldman, State Policy Advocate at the national Innocence Project.
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