On May 22, 2015, Gov. Greg Abott signed into law SB 487/HB 2435, which will increase access to post-conviction DNA testing. This new law will help the wrongfully convicted prove their innocence, and it will help law enforcement find the real perpetrators of crimes.
SB 487/HB 2435 was sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston); it now clarifies the fact that courts can grant testing of key evidence that has a "reasonable likelihood" of containing biological evidence, such as saliva, skin and sweat.
This measure makes it clear to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals that Texas' post-conviction DNA testing law provides broad access to testing where DNA evidence may prove a person's innocence.
When an Innocent Person is Behind Bars
Sen. Ellis said that when an innocent person is behind bars, the real perpetrator can be harming other people. According to Ellis, DNA testing has exonerated 52 innocent Texans and in 21 of those cases, the real criminals were identified.
DNA testing is a powerful tool, and it holds the key to unlocking the shackles of a wrongful conviction, said Michelle Feldman, a state policy advocate of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardoza School of Law.
Feldman said that with this law, Texas is ensuring that all of its residents, including the wrongfully convicted, victims and survivors, have reasonable access to the crime-solving potential of DNA testing.
State v. Swearingen
Last year in the State vs. Swearingen, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the law required those who sought DNA testing, must prove the existence of microscopic material on the evidence before testing could be granted. This was a nearly impossible task since biological evidence is invisible to the naked eye.
A few months later in the State v. Holberg, the court observed that the law was unclear and suggested that the burden of proof could be lower than what was articulated in Swearingen.
Now, the new law regarding DNA evidence clarifies that a court may grant DNA testing on critical crime scene evidence that has a "reasonably likelihood" of having biological material. Such evidence includes tape, ligature and fingernail scrapings.
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