2012-05-23 / Opinions

We can do more

It has been 23 years since the first person wrongly convicted of a crime was exonerated through the science of DNA testing. Since then, 289 people in 35 states found guilty of offenses have been exonerated through DNA tests, according to the Innocence Project website

Yet Kentucky stands squarely behind the times when it comes to updating its laws and policies on DNA testing in cases where people claim they have been wrongly convicted for serious offenses. ...

Kentucky could — and should — do much better.

Convincing evidence comes from Jefferson County, where Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel has a policy of allowing post-conviction DNA testing for any crime as long as the testing is relevant and the offender pays for it. Such testing has exonerated two men convicted of rape and another of murder.

But some prosecutors around the state oppose expanding DNA testing, citing the costs if the state had to pay for it, and the increased workload for the already burdened state crime lab.

And Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway is opposing expanded testing in a Meade County murder case currently before the state Supreme Court, arguing Kentucky law does not allow it.

In that case, two men convicted in the 1992 murder of a 19-year-old Louisville woman are seeking DNA testing of two hairs found clutched in the victim’s hand, evidence their lawyers argue will point to another man who allegedly admitted to the murder. They also are seeking DNA testing of other evidence, including material found under the victim’s fingernails. ...

Lawmakers had a chance to address this issue in the 2012 session with House Bill 178, which would have expanded post-conviction DNA testing beyond current limits of state law. It also would have allowed testing after convictions on serious felonies and any crime designated as a violent offense.

But HB 178, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Bell, a Glasgow Democrat, got scant attention and died in the House budget committee. ...

The Supreme Court could well decide the issue in Kentucky. But if not, lawmakers need to act next year to bring Kentucky into the current century when it comes to forensic science.

— The Courier-Journal, Louisville

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