The U.S. House of Representatives has agreed to a bill that could provide more than $1 billion for DNA testing to help prove the innocence of some death row inmates and the guilt of rapists and others who may have gone free.
The Associated Press says that the legislation, passed by a 357-67 vote, would authorize $755 million for state handling of a backlog of 350,000 untested DNA samples in rape evidence kits in criminal laboratories. “To have this tool available and not to fully use it is tragic,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “Many crimes could be solved, many guilty people could be taken off the streets, and many victims could be spared from further crimes.”
The bill authorizes $5 million a year for five years to help states cover the costs of DNA testing for death row inmates who claim innocence. States would be prohibited from denying inmates access to the testing if certain criteria are met.
Since 1976, when the Supreme Court allowed states to reinstate the death penalty, 111 people in 25 states have been cleared through DNA evidence.
DNA legislation has been pending in Congress for five years. After a compromise last month, it is moving through both houses.