New Jersey Law Strengthens Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing
Governor Christie signs bill removing incarceration requirement, improving access to federal and state DNA databases
Nov. 10, 2015
) – Governor Chris Christie recently signed into law a bipartisan bill (A 1678/ S 1365) that will greatly improve access to DNA testing to help the wrongfully convicted prove their innocence and enable law enforcement to identify the truly guilty. The new law allows defendants who are no longer incarcerated, but may be on parole, probation or the sex offender registry, to be eligible for testing. It also makes it easier for DNA evidence from crime scenes to be uploaded to state and federal DNA databases, which could help law enforcement and prosecutors identify the real perpetrators of crimes. A 1678/S 1365 wasauthored by Assemblymen Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) and Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), and co-sponsored Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), and Declan J. O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth). It passed both houses with near unanimous support.
“I want to thank Gov. Christie for signing this important legislation, as well as the members of the Assembly and Senate who supported this bill. This is a win for the innocent and for the public safety of all New Jerseyans. With this improved law, there is now more reasonable access to DNA testing which could help end the nightmare of a wrongful conviction. It also gives law enforcement and prosecutors the necessary tools to identify the true perpetrators of crimes,” said Michelle Feldman, State Policy Advocate at the Innocence Project.
Removing the requirement that a person need be incarcerated in order to access DNA testing is critical because innocent people who are no longer incarcerated who have been wrongfully convicted may face the collateral consequences that come with a criminal record. These consequences include barriers to housing, employment and social stigma. The wrongfully convicted deserve the opportunity to access DNA testing which could prove their innocence and allow them to move on with their lives. New Jersey was one of only nine states that did not permit testing for individuals who are no longer incarcerated.
The new law also greatly strengthens access to state and federal DNA databases by giving a judge the authority to order crime scene evidence to be uploaded to the state DNA database as well as the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Submitting DNA evidence to these databases will allow law enforcement greater ability to see whether there is a match to a real perpetrator in the databases. CODIS contains 10 million DNA profiles and is a key crime-fighting tool that has helped identify real perpetrators in 104 of the nation’s 333 DNA exonerations.
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