Agreement Reached on US DNA Test Law For Convicts

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Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached a compromise on long-pending legislation to provide convicts with better access to DNA testing and to legal representation. The Washington Post says that the measure would provide $1 billion over five years to help federal and state authorities solve crimes and to aid defendants and convicted offenders in trying to prove their innocence. “I’m a believer in the death penalty, but there has to be 100 percent certainty,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who worked on the bill with Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.). “What we do in this bill is fix a flawed system.”

The package would give federal inmates access to DNA testing — and make it easier for state inmates to gain access — when they contend such testing could prove their innocence in serious crimes. Federal inmates make up 10 percent of the nation’s 3,517 death row inmates. The measures provides $755 million to deal with a backlog of more than 300,000 rape kits and authorizes more than $500 million for grant programs to improve the capacity of crime labs to conduct DNA analyses, train criminal justice personnel in how to use DNA evidence, and promote use of DNA technology to identify missing persons.

It would set new procedures for DNA testing for federal inmates, and authorize $5 million over six years to help states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. It would help states to improve the quality of legal representation for defendants in capital cases.

Some 138 inmates have come off death rows in recent years because of post-conviction DNA evidence, says the anti-death-penalty Innocence Project. House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) will take up the bill next week, and his Senate counterpart, Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), said he is confident it will become law during this Congress.

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A30836-2003Oct1.html

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