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Last Chance For Washington Prisoners To Request Postconviction DNA Testing is December 31, 2004

Washington state prisoners who believe DNA evidence may prove their innocence must file a request for postconviction DNA testing by December 31, 2004. Starting January 1, 2005, a defendant must raise DNA issues at trial or on appeal.

Under RCW 10.37.170, any person convicted of a felony who is serving a term of imprisonment may request DNA testing by writing a letter to the state Office of Public Defense. But the law has a sunset clause. Those who do not request the testing by the end of the year may permanently lose access to the evidence. Starting next year, local jurisdictions will not be required to maintain biological evidence taken in the investigation of criminal cases.

The Innocence Project Northwest provides indigent Washington prisoners pro bono representation for the purpose of requesting DNA testing. If your case has biological evidence that could prove your innocence, write to: IPNW, William H. Gates Hall, University of Washington School of Law, Box 353020, Seattle, WA 98195-3020.  Please provide as much detail as possible about the case, explaining clearly the link between the biological evidence and your innocence. If possible, please try to include your cause number and a list of the evidence presented at trial.

Writing the Innocence Project does not in itself constitute a DNA testing request. The law requires a letter to the state Office of Public Defense, which will then forward the request to the prosecutor in the county where the conviction was obtained if: 1.) DNA was not admitted at trial because the court ruled it did not meet acceptable scientific standards or 2.) DNA testing technology was not advanced enough to test the DNA evidence at the time of the case.

The Office of Public Defense address is Office of Public Defense, P.O. Box 40957, Olympia, WA 98504-0957. Cause numbers and any trial and appeal numbers should be included in DNA testing requests.

Making the request does not guarantee testing will be completed. The law leaves the decision on whether to grant new DNA testing to the prosecutor. Screening is supposed to be based on the likelihood that the DNA evidence would demonstrate innocence on a more probable than not basis. For this reason, letters should make a clear link between the biological evidence and innocence.

IPNW recommends those who have been wrongly convicted to clearly state in their letter why they think DNA testing will prove on a more likely than not basis that they are not the person who committed the crime. IPNW also recommends sending a copy of the letter directly to the prosecutor in the county of conviction.

If the request is accepted and the evidence still exists, the prosecutor shall request the DNA be tested by the Washington state patrol crime laboratory. There is an appeal process for those denied testing.

DNA testing has been successful in overturning convictions in more than 150 cases across the United States. Advances in technology have greatly improved the quality of testing now available. Ten years ago, DNA testing could only be completed on large samples and the results were often inconclusive. Today reliable results can be obtained on small or even partially degraded biological samples. Even in cases where DNA testing was unavailable or inconclusive 3 years ago, reliable and accurate testing may now be possible.

DNA testing can be completed on biological material other than blood, saliva and semen. A Massachusetts prisoner was recently exonerated based on DNA testing completed on a swab from a glass the perpetrator drank from, a stain on a sweatshirt the perpetrator was wearing, and a hair found on a baseball cap that had come off the head of the perpetrator while he was running from the police. All three samples matched each other, but none matched the man incarcerated for the crime. He was released after serving more than 6 years for a crime he didn't commit.

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