|Your account||Today's news index||Weather||Traffic||Movies||Restaurants||Today's events|
Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
DNA testing law expires Dec. 31
By Rebecca Cook
Evidence that could exonerate people wrongly convicted of crimes might be destroyed after Dec. 31 because a state law requiring authorities to preserve DNA evidence expires at the end of the year.
Leaders of the Innocence Project Northwest hope the Legislature will act quickly next year to revive the state's post-conviction DNA testing law, but they're worried crucial evidence might be lost in the meantime.
"They will be denied access to justice if the biological evidence that can prove their innocence is destroyed," said Jacqueline McMurtrie, an assistant professor at the University of Washington law school and director of the Innocence Project Northwest, which works to free wrongly convicted people. "Our system has failed if even one innocent person is denied justice."
McMurtrie said the law's expiration date doesn't recognize that DNA testing keeps improving and getting more sophisticated. Evidence that could not have been tested a few years ago could now yield DNA results and possibly overturn a conviction.
The Washington law allows prisoners to request DNA testing of evidence, if such testing wasn't available when they were convicted. The Legislature set the law to expire at the end of this year, thinking there would be an initial rush of prisoners seeking DNA testing and then demand for it would diminish. But requests for DNA testing have remained constant, with 14 last year.
A Clark County man convicted of child rape was freed from prison last year with the help of DNA testing. Ross Sorrels served eight years of a 10-year sentence; in his case there was other evidence in favor of overturning his conviction as well, and another man was convicted.
"It is so important to preserve this evidence, to give inmates who may be innocent an opportunity to go back and test for DNA," said Tim Junkin, a Maryland attorney who recently wrote a book about the first man freed from death row by DNA testing.
"We have innocent people in our prisons. It's a frightening but real prospect," Junkin said. "Anybody who cares about justice has to be concerned about these issues."
A bill in the Legislature earlier this year would have extended the post-conviction DNA testing law, requiring authorities to save DNA evidence for possible future testing. It passed out of committee but failed to get a vote in the House or Senate.
Supporters say they believe time simply ran out on the bill, and they're confident legislators will act quickly to extend the law when they arrive in Olympia this January.
"We have every reason to think it will sail through," said Joanne Moore, director of the Washington State Office of Public Defense. "Everyone in the criminal-justice system supports the fact that innocent people should not be serving prison time."
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top