Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which has championed DNA testing as a forensic tool, hailed the Oklahoma law as a victory. “Two decades ago, when we founded the Innocence Project, no state in the nation had a law on the books to help wrongfully convicted people access DNA testing to prove their innocence. Today, every state in the country now has a law allowing wrongfully convicted people the legal means to request DNA testing.”
At least 310 people have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA tests since 1989, when such testing became forensically feasible. Larry Peterson, for example, spent 16 years in New Jersey prisons after being falsely convicted of murder. Following the passage of New Jersey’s DNA testing statute in 2002, Peterson was released when he was able to prove he was not the perpetrator of the crime.
Most recently, in Laramie County, Wyoming, charges of first-degree sexual assault and aggravated burglary against Andrew Johnson were dropped on July 19, 2013. Johnson, who had served 23 years, was exonerated following post-conviction DNA testing of evidence from the victim’s sexual assault kit.
While some states have limitations on testing that exclude those who have pleaded guilty and other restrictions, Oklahoma’s statute is considered a model according to Stephen Saloom, policy director at the Innocence Project. “I encourage lawmakers to look at Oklahoma’s recently enacted law as an example of a statute that provides inclusive access,” he said.
The Oklahoma law was the product of a recommendation issued by the Oklahoma Justice Commission in November 2012; the commission, an entity of the State Bar Association, is chaired by former State Attorney General Drew Edmondson. The DNA testing statute is one of several recommendations made by the commission intended to help prevent wrongful convictions in Oklahoma.
Sources: www.innocenceproject.org, USA Today, www.wyomingnews.com
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