A Legislation has been passed by Gov. Chris Christie by which the availability of DNA testing will be increased to criminal defendants who say that they were convicted for an offense they never committed.
Defendants who were imprisoned for committing a crime can only take advantage of DNA testing at the cost of the state, but now that requirement is removed by the new bill and New Jersey is also eliminated from the list of the 14 states that had this requirement.
On 9th of November, the bill was signed by Christie and it will be implemented in the month of March.
A statement was released in which the chief sponsor in the Assembly, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen said, “Thanks to DNA testing, we have seen a number of individuals exonerated after years, sometimes decades, spent behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Sadly, under current state law, an innocent person who is on probation or parole does not have the same access to the technology that can help clear their name and restore their dignity. This law opens access to DNA testing to these individuals so they can stop living under the shadow of guilt and finally be free”.
Other than giving a chance for the DNA testing process to non-incarcerated defendants, a few changes are also made in the law.
“Expanding access to DNA analysis to those who are no longer incarcerated will allow people who have served their time, but who are still living with the nightmare of a wrongful conviction, to prove their innocence This expansion will also assist in identifying the true perpetrators of the crimes for which these individuals were charged, said the lead Senate sponsor, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.
Under the new law, the defendants can get the DNA test done by private laboratories and they will not be pushed to rely on overburdened state or local laboratories for testing. The only requirement for the DNA testing is that the lab should be certified by the state and is allowed to perform testing; the defendant needs to pay the fees for the test.
A change is also made in the 1994 DNA Database and Databank Act and now the defendants will be given access to DNA proof gathered from crime scenes and victims.
The Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit legal organization proposed the bill that uses DNA to discharge wrongfully convicted individuals.
Last year, during the hearing before the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, the attorney representing the organization urged passage of the bill.
The group’s senior staff lawyer, Vanessa Potkin, told the committee that the charges of 317 individuals have been dismissed nationwide through post-conviction DNA testing. According to him, the legislation is important for those who say that they were wrongfully convicted of sex crimes in the time period between 1980s and 1990s. If their charges are not dismissed, then their names will be placed in the state’s Sex Offender Registry. He added, “It’s a small but important group of people”.
One individual from the sponsors of the bill, Committee Chairman Charles Mainor, asked a question that why defendants waited until after their prison sentences were completed to request DNA testing.
Potkin said defendants normally request the Innocence Project for assistance while they are imprisoned, but also said that the Innocence Project’s waiting list is currently about ten years. He added, “We’re trying to reduce that”.
Under the legislation that was signed by Christie in the year 2013, an individual wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime can get the amount of up to $50,000 for each year they spent in prison.
News Source: www.NJLawJournal.com