Abolish the Death Penalty: DNA Testing

An ongoing series tackling the issues around the death penalty in the United States.

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Science

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a necessary molecule that is unique to each person, and can be found in every cell in a body. Testing evidence for DNA is the “modern and improved form of fingerprinting”, according to the ACLU. For it to be effective though, biological evidence must be collected, preserved, kept from contamination and analysed correctly. Because of this, DNA is not able to be reliably tested in all criminal cases.

History

In 1993, Kirk Bloodsworth was the first person on death row who was exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 9 years in prison. Since then, 20 of the 350 people exonerated by DNA evidence served time on death row. This March William Barnhouse became the 350th person exonerated by DNA evidence. after serving 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Of all exonerees freed by DNA evidence- 217 are African American, 106 are white, 25 are Latino and 2 are Asian Americans.

Access

All 50 states have post conviction DNA testing access laws, but the reach and ability of DNA testing access within each state differs. This means that death row inmates in all of the 31 state that still use the death penalty should theoretically get access to DNA testing, though different laws complicate this. Additionally, if the client does not have a good lawyer who knows to push for DNA testing, this piece of crucial evidence can simply never be brought up.

Equal Opportunity?

In some states, DNA testing access is not granted if the defendant originally pled guilty for the crime they are on death row for. This is despite the fact that about 30% of proven wrongful convictions involved a false confession. Some laws do not allow for challenges to denials for DNA testing, and some laws do not allow people who are no longer incarcerated to follow through with DNA testing.

Outcomes

There have been 158 people released from death row after they were proved to be innocent since the Death Penalty was reinstated in the US in 1977. That means that for every ten people set to be executed and granted access to DNA testing, one is found innocent.

Solutions

According to the Innocence Project, a leading voice in the country for those wrongly convicted, there are many ways to improve access to DNA testing post conviction. Most of these solutions have to do with making DNA access laws more flexible and available to those convicted.

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe — http://eepurl.com/cZoiG9