With an important bill to improve the criminal justice system in Ohio already passed by the Senate six months ago, many people are wondering why isn’t it law yet. An editorial in today’s Columbus Dispatch says there isn’t a good reason — and urges the House to pass it into law.
Senate Bill 77 would make it easier to use DNA evidence and exonerate the wrongly convicted. If passed into law, it would also prevent wrongful convictions by improving eyewitness identification procedures and interrogations. The Columbus Dispatch said these reforms are critical, and the Ohio House Speaker should call the bill for a vote.
By requiring DNA samples to be taken from anyone arrested for a felony, it would significantly expand the pool from which law-enforcement agencies can look for matches when DNA evidence from a crime is being analyzed.
It would make post-conviction DNA testing more available in cases where new technology or evidence warrants such testing. It would end a senseless prohibition on such testing for parolees, and would require DNA evidence to be saved for up to 30 years in the most serious cases, unless the defendant pleaded guilty; then evidence need be saved only five years. Just in Ohio, even with the roadblocks that currently exist, eight men have been found innocent of crimes for which they spent many years in prison. How many more innocent people might be exonerated if testing were made more available?
With a requirement that witness identifications be conducted by an officer who doesn’t know who the suspect is – easily accomplished with a method in which subjects’ photos are put in folders and shuffled – it would reduce the likelihood of faulty identifications, which former Attorney General Jim Petro, who also worked on the bill, has noted are at the root of 75 percent of wrongful-conviction cases.
Although the bill enjoys strong bipartisan support, it has not been brought for a vote on the House floor. The
Akron Beacon-Journal also called on the House Speaker
to break this logjam and bring the bill for a vote. Ohio’s governor has said he will sign it if the House calls it for a vote and passes it.
The Innocence Project and the Ohio Innocence Project have worked to pass the legislation, and the groups are urging people who live in Ohio to contact their state representatives and urge them to bring Senate Bill 77 for a vote in the House. People in Ohio can find contact information for their representatives