October 23, 2004
U.S. CONGRESS PASSES "JUSTICE
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
The new program establishes a federal
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
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.