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Pennsylvania House of Representatives
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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: February 2, 2017 01:06 PM
From: Representative Tedd C. Nesbit
To: All House members
Subject: DNA Testing
 
I will be introducing legislation updating our DNA test statute. The use of forensic DNA testing has revolutionized the administration of justice in Pennsylvania, has helped ensure that the correct person is incarcerated for a crime, and has freed those convicted of crimes they never committed.

District attorneys routinely use DNA to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and DNA testing can be used to ensure the integrity of convictions already obtained. Act 109 of 2002 enabled convicted persons to move for post-conviction DNA testing relevant to their cases. To date, 349 wrongfully convicted Americans have been proven innocent by DNA testing, including 12 Pennsylvanians. The real perpetrators were identified in 163 DNA-based exoneration cases nationwide, including 4 of the 12 Pennsylvania cases. These offenders went on to be convicted of 149 additional crimes, including 77 rapes and 34 murders.

The time has come to update our DNA testing law to reflect the significant advances in technology and the lessons learned by criminal justice professionals since 2002. I intend to introduce legislation that will accomplish the following:
  • Allow those who plead guilty to access testing. Since 95% of all criminal prosecutions end in guilty pleas, allowing access to DNA for those who pled guilty only makes sense. Nationally, ten percent of DNA-based exonerees initially pleaded guilty to the charges even though they were innocent.
  • Require the Commonwealth to identify all physical evidence in a case. Currently, petitioners for testing must identify all evidence to be tested, but they are often unaware of all the physical evidence collected by the Commonwealth during the investigation. This is basic fairness.
  • Allow testing when new DNA testing technology becomes available. Currently, DNA testing is only available when the testing technology being requested was not available at the time of trial. The statutory language has caused confusion in the courts. In addition, many testing laboratories reach “inconclusive” results when there are multiple persons’ DNA in a sample, but newer technologies exist to separately identify the DNA of multiple persons.
  • Matching with DNA profiles in CODIS. My bill would codify current case law which includes a potential match in the FBI’s DNA database (CODIS) to another offender as “exculpatory results” which a court must assume when deciding whether a petitioner may get DNA testing. My bill will also enhance the use of CODIS to help exonerate the wrongfully convicted and identify true perpetrators.
  • Remove the supervision requirement: Currently only people serving a sentence can apply for DNA testing. Dozens of citizens have been denied the ability to prove their innocence because their sentence expired. Twenty-nine other states have no incarceration or supervision requirement in their DNA law.
Please join me in sponsoring this legislation to make maximum use of DNA science in the administration of justice.



Introduced as HB1801