Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has ordered DNA testing in dozens of old criminal cases to determine whether examination of biological samples will exonerate people imprisoned for violent crimes, the Washington Post reports. Warner said the state should not wait until inmates request DNA testing under evidence laws that were relaxed three years ago. Instead, he said the state will spend about $200,000 to evaluate and test about 40 cases after culling through about 10 percent of those on file in state archives from the 1970s and 1980s. Most will be sexual assault cases.
The Virginia Trial Lawyers Association urged the state to go further by testing all old cases in which biological samples still exist. “Such materials may prove to be a treasure trove for those wrongly imprisoned and a final reckoning for the guilty,” wrote H. Duncan Garnett Jr., the group’s president. “How many more innocent people will have to be disgorged from Virginia’s prisons before our state lab finally acknowledges that decisive steps are needed?” One expert, Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said, “There’s a huge sea change in the attitude of getting to the truth in these cases through DNA testing.” In recent years, DNA testing has exonerated three high-profile Virginia inmates who had each served years behind bars for crimes they did not commit.