VA Faces Ethical Questions In Search For Wrongful Convictions


Virginia’s unprecedented effort to use modern-day technology to find, and exonerate, innocent people was reviewed by the Washington Post. Since the $1.4 million project was launched almost three years ago, samples of blood, semen, and saliva from about 400 serious crimes from the 1970s and 1980s have been reexamined. About 400 more cases will be analyzed. Officials face ethical and practical questions about the best way to handle the evidence. No determination has been made about whether anyone was wrongly convicted. Defense lawyers and legal scholars commend the project, the most extensive effort nationwide to use DNA to undo false convictions. Several legal experts have criticized a state decision to notify convicts about the tests through a letter by certified mail. They say the convicts, who will learn in the letter only that tests were conducted and not the results, might not read well enough to understand or might be suspicious of the government.

University of Virginia associate law professor Brandon L. Garrett said he does not understand the state’s rejection of the offer by about 200 private lawyers who have volunteered to help notify convicts. Said Joseph Bono, chairman of the Virginia Forensic Science Board: “Nothing like this has ever been done, and we have to really be careful because we’re dealing with people’s lives. We’re dealing with people’s privacy.” He noted that the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which assists people who say they were wrongly convicted, has agreed to be listed on the letters as a resource. Nationwide, post-conviction DNA testing has mostly been conducted piecemeal as defense lawyers push for new tests for inmates who say they’re innocent.


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