Virginia conducts review of DNA cases, but doesn’t plan to share results with inmates
After a report last week revealed that Virginia officials do not plan to tell convicted defendants if an audit has revealed untested biological evidence in their case file, editorials and experts have criticized the plan as unfair to people who may be wrongfully imprisoned.
The audit began after
was exonerated in 2002 by DNA evidence in his case that was uncovered in the files of a retired lab analyst. Gov. Mark Warner then ordered that 10% of cases in the analyst’s files be tested for a possible wrongful conviction. Two more men –
Phillip Leon Thurman
– were exonerated by this review, and Warner ordered a complete audit of all sex assault and murder convictions between 1973 and 1988 involving biological evidence. That audit turned up 2,215 cases, and officials plan to share this list of cases with police, prosecutors and the governor, but not to notify defendants if biological evidence has been found in their case.
Leading voices across the state are outraged by the plan to notify only police and prosecutors.
From an editorial in the Bristol Herald Courier:
Now, the state’s prosecutors, court clerks and police are fine, honorable people. But we’re not so certain that they will be zealous advocates on behalf of individuals that their colleagues put away years ago. It’s human nature to prefer not to kick over a hornet’s nest.
…The Department should move forward with testing and notify those whose convictions might be affected by the results of that testing. It’s the only fair way to proceed.
From an editorial in the Roanoke Times:
Unless Virginia is taking its lead from the White House's treatment of detainees, it should let prisoners and their attorneys know what new evidence is available. Those prisoners could then decide whether to pursue DNA testing independently of the state.
Yet the state Forensic Science Board does not think that is appropriate. On a 6-5 vote, it chose to keep prisoners and the General Assembly in the dark.
…Those opposed to notification raised concerns about the cost of testing, difficulty tracking down each felon and sending a message that the state doesn't trust police and prosecutors. None of those inconveniences is particularly convincing when the alternative is to deny a wrongfully convicted prisoner an opportunity to prove his innocence.
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