The Florida Supreme Court will give incarcerated felons more time to prove their innocence with new DNA tests, says the Miami Herald. Yesterday’s 4-3 ruling postpones indefinitely a legislative deadline of today for submitting requests for the tests. The court barred police and prosecutors from destroying DNA evidence pending further court orders. The court will hear arguments on the issue Nov. 7. Today’s deadline was established in a 2001 state law passed as inmates nationwide began proving their innocence with DNA tests. Many, including two men from Broward County, Fla., were convicted before the testing technology was developed.
The court’s majority said that it could postpone the deadline because the court has exclusive jurisdiction over post-conviction cases. The dissenters, including two of Gov. Jeb Bush’s appointees, said the court was going too far.
The law’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Alex Villalobos of Miami, said a Senate committee will take up proposed changes in three weeks. Villalobos wants to avoid setting a deadline for inmates because future technology could set the innocent free and help capture the truly guilty. “It can take a long time to investigate these cases, so what’s the real harm? These guys are in prison, so it’s not like they’re going anywhere,” he said.
Several key prosecutors had said they would continue testing DNA evidence for convicts who have credible innocence claims, regardless of the deadline. The state association of prosecuting attorneys worry that frivolous filings will clog up the justice system. Catherine Arcabascio, of the Nova Southeastern University Florida Innocence Project, said that won’t happen. Her group has screened 496 cases since 1999. The Florida State University Innocence Initiative has screened 173 cases since April and has a backlog of 500 cases.