Houston Judges Will Have Expert Lawyers Review DNA Cases


Houston's most recent inmate exonerated by DNA evidence may have spent an extra year in prison because of his attorney's slow work, says the Houston Chronicle. Judges hope to eliminate such scenarios through a plan to restrict appointments to cases involving post-conviction DNA testing to a small pool of experienced lawyers. A 2001 law allowing convicts to request DNA tests has been the key to freedom for dozens in Texas, but judges and lawyers say such cases can suffer from a lack of attention and experience.

Judge Randy Roll considered a 28-year-old case against a defendant seeking DNA tests on evidence that was collected but never analyzed, evidence that police and county officials years ago reported had been lost or destroyed. New lawyers found what others could not: three hairs from the victim's clothes that may resolve questions about Donald R. Burke's 1981 rape conviction. The case prompted Roll to ask his fellow judges to change the system for appointing lawyers to defendants seeking post-conviction DNA testing to ensure that the cases go to people with knowledge of evidence storage and DNA. “It upset me that there could be a 30-year-old case out there with evidence that no one knew how to find,” said Roll, elected to his first term last November. “It became clear to me that we cannot just name lawyers to these cases ad hoc, but that we need experts doing this.” Harris County's 22 criminal district judges have approved a plan to limit the lawyers assigned to cases in which defendants are seeking post-conviction DNA testing to a selected group with experience in the area.

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