As technology has advanced, DNA testing has become a critical part of the criminal defense process. With DNA evidence, law enforcement officials can obtain information on who committed a crime. Hair or skin left at the scene (or on a victim), blood samples and other physical evidence markers can definitively narrow down a suspect list to a single person.
Alternatively, DNA testing can also be used in an accused person’s defense to rule him or her out as a suspect. While today’s cases rely heavily on DNA evidence, criminals who were convicted before this testing was made available may have been wrongly incarcerated because they could not prove their innocence.
Now, a new bill in New Jersey could change the way criminal defendants can provide evidence to prove their innocence in court. Earlier this summer, the state Legislature passed A1678 in a 36-2 vote in the Senate and a 71-1 vote in the Assembly. Now, the measure has moved on to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk for consideration.
If Gov. Christie signs the bill, it will make DNA testing more widely available to criminal defendants who believe they have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned or sentenced. A1678 removes the requirement that a defendant has to be incarcerated in order to apply for DNA testing procedures at the state’s expense. Currently, anyone who wants to utilize DNA testing as evidence in their defense against criminal charges must be behind bars if the state is going to pick up the costs. New Jersey is one of 14 states that have the requirement of incarceration.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, said that, “thanks to DNA testing, we have seen a number of individuals exonerated after years, sometimes decades, behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Sadly, under current state law, an innocent person on probation or parole does not have the same access to the technology that can help clear their name and restore their dignity.”
In addition to easing the requirements for DNA testing procedures, the bill intends to change other aspects of the current law. Right now, a judge is allowed to order forensic DNA testing if an incarcerated person requests it, but the judge is not authorized to order law enforcement officials to submit evidence from the crime scene into the federal Combined DNA index System (CODIS), which could determine if the evidence matches another person’s DNA. A1678 grants judges that authority.
The bill also seeks to amend the 1994 DNA Database and Databank Act to allow defendants to access the DNA evidence that was collected in their cases, from the crime scenes and the victims. The bill has significant support from the Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit group that helps wrongfully convicted persons exonerate themselves.
In New Jersey, anyone who was wrongfully convicted or incarcerated may be eligible for monetary compensation if they were convicted by a jury, and did not plead guilty to minimize the sentence.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent anyone who has been wrongfully imprisoned or convicted of criminal activity. For more information regarding DNA testing and legal options, contact a New Jersey defense attorney at HCK today.