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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: April 20, 2018 12:54 PM
From: Representative Tedd C. Nesbit
To: All House members
Subject: Reintroduction of the Post Conviction Relief Act and Updates to the DNA Testing Statute
In the near future, I plan to reintroduce legislation amending the Post Conviction Relief Act and post-conviction DNA testing statute. These important pieces of legislation were introduced this session as HB 1801 and HB 1802; however, I am reintroducing the bills to reflect updated language agreed upon through months of constructive negotiations between the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, as well as with the Commonwealth Victim Advocate.

Please consider co-sponsoring this legislation to improve access to justice for those who are truly wrongly convicted, while protecting crime victims and witnesses.

Document #1

Introduced as HB2307

The legislation would improve the Post-Conviction Relief Act to help innocent people present new evidence challenging their wrongful convictions – whether through newly available DNA or other types of evidence. Under the current law, a petition for relief must be filed within 60 days of when newly available evidence supports a claim of innocence. Because of the strict time limit, petitioners must file motions challenging their convictions each time new evidence becomes available, rather than filing a single complete petition; resulting in a waste of court resources. The legislation extends the time limit to one-year—improving court efficiency, limiting meritless petitions, and ensuring wrongfully convicted people can present a full picture of all evidence of their innocence.
Since the bill was initially introduced, provisions were added at the request of the Commonwealth Victim Advocate to protect crime victims and witnesses. By explicitly requiring all investigative members to identify themselves and their reason for contacting witnesses and victims, this legislation encourages honesty and transparency. It also provides prosecutors with fair notice of what witnesses who may be presented will say, which will reduce unnecessary strain on district attorney offices.
Previous co-sponsors: Briggs, D. Costa, Gillen, A. Harris, Heffley, James, McClinton, Neilson, O’Neill, Pickett, Readshaw, Rozzi, Schlossberg, Soloman, Ward, Murt.

Document #2

Introduced as HB2308

Description: This legislation updates our post-conviction DNA testing statute. Meaningful access to DNA testing for the wrongfully convicted is a matter of justice and public safety. To date, 351 wrongfully convicted Americans have been proven innocent by DNA testing and the real perpetrators in these cases went on to be convicted of 149 additional crimes, including 77 rapes and 34 murders. In Pennsylvania, 13 innocent people were exonerated with DNA testing and the real perpetrators were identified in eight of these cases.

In 2002, Pennsylvania was one of the earlier states to pass a law creating an avenue for the wrongfully convicted to access DNA testing. The law has not been updated since then, and now that all 50 states have passed similar laws we have the benefit of knowing areas that can be improved. We intend to introduce legislation that will accomplish the following: 
  • Allow those who pleaded guilty to be eligible for testing. Courts have interpreted the current law to bar people who pleaded guilty from accessing post-conviction DNA testing. Nationally, 11 percent of DNA-based exonerees pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit. This legislation would put Pennsylvania in line with 45 other states where people who pleaded guilty are eligible for testing.
  • Remove the supervision requirement to obtain DNA testing post-conviction. Under the current law, a person must be incarcerated, on parole or probation to be eligible for post-conviction DNA testing. However, wrongfully convicted people may continue to face collateral consequences after their state supervision is over including mandatory sex offender registration, barriers to housing and employment, and social stigma. Nationally, 36 states permit wrongfully convicted individuals who are no longer under state supervision to apply for DNA testing.
  • Clarify that testing is permitted with newer technology. Mirroring provisions in 41 other states, this legislation would clarify that even if DNA testing was previously conducted, additional testing may be granted if new technology could produce substantially more accurate and probative results.
  • Allow courts to order DNA profiles be uploaded into national and state DNA databases. Allowing DNA profiles to be uploaded will both help the wrongfully convicted establish their innocence and identify real perpetrators. 
Please consider sponsoring this legislation to make maximum use of DNA science in the administration of justice.
Previous co-sponsors: Briggs, D. Costa, Gillen, McClinton, Neilson, Pickett, Schlossberg., Murt.