The U.S. Senate is “dawdling” on a bill to ensure fairer access to post-conviction DNA testing and encourage states to improve the abysmal caliber of legal representation in capital cases, editorializes the New York Times. The measure would expand funds available to clear up a nationwide backlog of more than 300,000 biological samples waiting for analyses.
The bill is scheduled for possible action today in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It combines President Bush’s proposal to reduce the evidence backlog with watered-down but still valuable aspects of a plan by Senator Patrick Leahy to combat wrongful convictions in death penalty and other cases. The House approved it, 357 to 67. The bill is languishing, the Times says, because of opposition from the Justice Department to provisions upgrading legal representation and expanding DNA testing, and because of delaying tactics by three Republican senators, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and John Cornyn of Texas. The bill’s prospects rest largely in the hands of committee chairman Orrin Hatch.