Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is reversing a controversial Bush administration policy under which numerous defendants have waived their right to DNA testing even though that right is guaranteed under federal law, says the Washington Post. Holder will issue a memo today to the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, which overturns the practice of seeking “DNA waivers,” said the officials. The waivers have been in widespread federal use for about five years and run counter to the national movement toward allowing prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing to prove their innocence. More than 260 wrongly convicted people have been exonerated by such tests.
The waivers are filed only in guilty pleas and bar defendants from ever requesting DNA testing, even if evidence emerges that could exonerate them. Statistics show that innocent people sometimes plead guilty, often for a reduced sentence. One quarter of the 261 people who have been exonerated by DNA testing had falsely confessed to crimes they didn’t commit, and 19 of them pleaded guilty, according to the Innocence Project. Holder last year ordered a review of the little-known policy, under which the Bush Justice Department had told prosecutors to seek DNA waivers whenever possible. The review came after inquiries about DNA waivers by The Washington Post.