A recent editorial in New Jersey’s
called on the state’s legislators to fix the current DNA testing law in two important ways: 1) allowing people who have already been released from prison access to testing to prove their innocence; and 2) allowing greater access to the federal DNA database, which could help identify the real perpetrators of crimes.
New Jersey exoneree Gerard Richardson, who served nearly two decades in prison for a murder he did not commit before DNA testing exonerated him, testified at the state’s capital in favor of a bill to fix both problems. Richardson was convicted based largely on the testimony of a forensic dentist who testified that his teeth matched a bite mark found on the victim’s body. Even after DNA testing of a swab taken from the bite mark excluded Richardson as the source and pointed to another male perpetrator, he remained behind bars because the law prevented the profile from being run through the DNA database. The
This is not only a problem for the wrongly imprisoned, it’s a threat to public safety. In 153 of the nation’s 316 DNA exonerations, the true perpetrator was later identified, many times through this database — and in most cases, that person had gone on to commit other crimes, including more than 30 murders and 70 sexual assaults.
We’ve got to catch guilty people immediately. This bill proposed in the Senate would help do that, by making it easier to enter DNA test results from private laboratories into the national DNA databank, to settle claims of innocence and reveal the true perpetrator of the crime.
The same bill would also fix the second serious problem with our state’s DNA law — that it prohibits testing for anyone who is not currently in custody. This means that if you’ve already done your prison time, you have no way to prove your innocence, even if you offer to pay for DNA testing yourself.
Lawmakers should vote yes on this bill, because the costs of both fixes is minimal. If an in-person site inspection is necessary for a private laboratory, the defendant can pay the travel costs. And allowing ex-cons to get DNA testing affects only a small number of people — after all, if you’re no longer in custody, you have little incentive to seek DNA testing if you’re guilty.