People convicted of crimes through inconclusive or outdated DNA testing procedures should be allowed new tests using the latest technological advances without regard to a three-year time limit set by law, ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Associated Press reports. The court is the nation’s first to rule that the advances in DNA technology mean previously useless samples should be considered newly discovered evidence that is not subject to statutory time limitations.
The three-judge panel acknowledged that the ruling could re-open many closed cases to new DNA testing. The judges said protecting the innocent is paramount, particularly when innocence can be proved by DNA evidence even after a conviction. “No tradition is more firmly established in our system of law than assuring to the greatest extent that its inevitable errors are made in favor of the guilty rather than against the innocent,” said Judge Andrew Kleinfeld. The ruling came in the case of a Montana man who was convicted of attempted sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl in 2006 and sentenced to more than 14 years in prison. Betsy Griffing, who handled the case for the Montana Innocence Project, said the decision will have a broad effect. “If you can show that there are new DNA technologies available to you to show your innocence … you’re going to get DNA testing …that’s very big,” she said.