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Technology Changes the Law

Sometimes technology, not ideology, drives change in the law. And in the case of DNA evidence, technology has done what the Constitution and the due process clause never could: lead to systemic changes in state laws to allow convicted defendants to reopen closed criminal cases and seek access to DNA evidence for testing through procedures that did not exist at the time of trial. The trend is discussed in this New York Times article, Exoneration Using DNA Brings Change in Legal System.

The article reports that as the result of the exoneration of more than 200 convicts through use of DNA evidence over the past decade, states are now providing easier access to DNA evidence. From the article:

All but eight states now give inmates varying degrees of access to DNA evidence that might not have been available at the time of their convictions. Many states are also overhauling the way witnesses identify suspects, crime labs handle evidence and informants are used. At least six states have created commissions to expedite cases of those wrongfully convicted or to consider changes to criminal justice procedures. One of them, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, will hold a hearing this month on remedies for people who have been wrongfully convicted.

Personally, I've never understood the reluctance of prosecutors and courts to allow access to DNA evidence for testing that was not technologically possible at the time of trial. Many times, DNA evidence will corroborate the outcome, thus increasing the credibility of the conviction. And where the DNA evidence exonerates a defendant, then an innocent person can be freed -- a result that I'd assume all players in the criminal justice system would want to achieve. In any event, my policy argument doesn't matter as much anymore, and that's fine -- because 200 exonerations based on DNA evidence is the most powerful argument of all.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 1, 2007 at 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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