location: news

October 23, 2004


In a rare move that enhances the protection of the wrongly convicted prisoner, the U.S. Congress deserves credit for overriding objections from the Justice Department and approving a pioneer program to provide federal suspects better defense lawyers and fairer access to DNA evidence in seeking post-conviction exonerations.

The new program establishes a federal prisoner's access to DNA evidence for five years after conviction,and possibly longer if a court finds injustice. It also provides $350 million to improve the abysmal state of defense representation that so often undermines justice in death penalty cases. And the government will spend $755 million to deal with the current backlog of 350,000 untested DNA samples in rape cases - a step sought by the White House that could uncover suspects in as many as 40 percent of the cases, by some estimates.

The value of DNA evidence has been shown in such pro bono efforts as the 151 exonerations won by the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School. In freeing those innocent prisoners, DNA searches of existing records uncovered suspects with positive matches in one-third of the cases, Cardozo lawyers say.

Read an analysis of this legislation.

Michael Jackson