DNA-Led Changes: Greatest Justice Reforms In 40 Years?


Many states are adopting broad changes to criminal justice procedures as a response to the exoneration of more than 200 convicts through the use of DNA evidence, says the New York Times. All but eight states now give inmates varying degrees of access to DNA evidence that might not have been available at the time of their convictions. Many states are also overhauling the way witnesses identify suspects, crime labs handle evidence, and informants are used. At least six states have created commissions to expedite cases of those wrongfully convicted or to consider changes to criminal justice procedures.

Laws in several states, including Illinois, New Jersey and North Carolina, have bipartisan backing, with many Democrats supportive on civil rights grounds and Republicans generally hoping that tighter procedures will lead to fewer challenges of convictions.”Technology has made a big difference,” said Margaret Berger, a DNA lis on a National Academy of Sciences panel looking into the changing needs of forensic scientists. “We see that there are new techniques for ascertaining the truth.” Nationwide, misidentification by witnesses led to wrongful convictions in 75 percent of the 207 instances in which prisoners have been exonerated over the last decade, says the Innocence Project. “The legislative reform movement as a result of these DNA exonerations is probably the single greatest criminal justice reform effort in the last 40 years,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. Some law enforcement officials oppose some of the changes, saying they create legal minefields for the police and prosecutors. Any deviation from the new standards, no matter how minor, could be cited by defense lawyers in an appeal, critics say.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/01/us/01exonerate.html?hp

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