A new Texas law that takes effect Tuesday allows prosecutors and parole boards to see DNA evidence that links a suspect to an old sexual assault, even though the statute of limitations has expired on the case and the suspect was never tried, reports the Wall Street Journal. Previously, there would be no record linking the suspect to the old crime. Supporters of the law, the first of its kind in the country, hope it means that suspects in those old cases will face more-vigorous prosecutions and sterner parole boards should they find themselves in trouble with the law again. Opponents say the law could rob suspects of due-process rights.
The change attempts to close a gap created by improved technology and an outdated law. Advances in genetic testing have enabled prosecutors to access even the smallest DNA samples to identify suspects in old criminal cases. But even though the Texas Legislature in 2001 removed the state’s five-year statute of limitations on sexual-assault charges, the change doesn’t apply to alleged assaults before 2001. The new Texas law was conceived and championed by a small group of rape survivors who had joined a Dallas Police Department support group launched as part of the city’s cold-case project.