DNA testing has changed the American criminal justice system forever – helping to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and solve cold cases. But DNA tests can only be conducted if evidence is saved. As two articles this week noted, evidence preservation laws around the country have lagged behind advances in DNA testing technology and opportunities for justice are routinely – and tragically – destroyed.
Jim McCloskey of Centurion Ministries told the New Jersey-Star Ledger this week about the case of Louis Thomas, who was convicted of a murder and rape he said he didn’t commit.. McCloskey investigated the case and began to believe that Thomas was wrongfully imprisoned, only to learn that biological evidence in Mr. Thomas’s case – and many others – had not been preserved.
‘A month before I came into the case and 27 years after the crime, the evidence custodian had petitioned the district attorney to destroy the evidence in 100 old cases, including our guy’s,’ McCloskey said.
Advanced technology allows the Innocence Project and others to conduct tests in cases that are decades old, but countless innocent people will never get a chance at DNA testing because evidence in their case has been discarded.
New Jersey does not have a state law requiring the preservation of evidence. Decisions about the destruction of evidence are therefore left to the police or prosecutors in each local jurisdiction.
New Jersey Assemblyman Gordon M Johnson wants to see this changed and has introduced legislation that will require biological evidence from crime scenes to be preserved for a defendant’s lifetime. And Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin pointed out that many Innocence Project cases are closed because biological evidence has been lost or destroyed.
"In any type of civilized society based on fairness and justice, it's inconceivable that states are allowed to throw away evidence while a person is still in prison," Potkin said.
Read the full story here
. (Newark Star-Ledger 11/03/08)
And an editorial this week in the Cleveland Plain Dealer urges state lawmakers to pass House Bill 218, which was proposed this summer to require the "collection, maintenance, preservation and analysis of DNA specimens.” The Plain Dealer cites the case of
who was released in 1994 after DNA testing proved he didn't commit the rape that put him behind bars for three years. In Piszczek’s case, the city of Brook Park did not preserve the samples from the crime, but the California lab involved in Piszczek's case had saved the samples for testing.
Ohio has the technological tools to help victims and put away dangerous criminals. It just has to find the will to use them.
Read the full editorial here
. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/03/08)
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