In Connecticut habeas corpus cases, there is intensified movement for wrongly convicted people to prove innocence. If you face a habeas corpus case, learn more here.
Because of the extensive press coverage of wrongful convictions and the phenomenon of DNA exonerations, the movement to afford wrongly convicted persons the means to establish their innocence has intensified during the last three years. Thirty states now have statutes addressing post-conviction DNA testing. (See Exhibit E: Innocence Project @ www.innocenceproject.org: Complete Legislation Listing). All of these laws guarantee the availability of post-conviction DNA testing. Such testing may conclusively establish guilt or innocence. Or, it may have significant probative value to a finder of fact.
Post-Conviction DNA Testing
The federal government has also begun to enact measures that would ensure the availability of post-conviction DNA testing. The recently proposed Innocence Protection Act would help. It would grant any inmate convicted of a federal crime the right to petition a federal court for DNA testing. This happens where such testing would support a claim of innocence. (See Exhibit F: Senate Bill 486, attached hereto.) The Act is a response to the emerging evidence of wrongful convictions. It is also a response to the power of DNA testing and the inability of convicted prisoners to obtain DNA testing. The Act got endorsement from the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is expected to be enacted by the House and Senate later this year. An additional feature of the Act is that it would withhold federal funds to any state that fails to make post-conviction DNA testing available.
Connecticut has also begun to consider measures that would ensure post-conviction DNA testing. Section 6 of Substitute Senate Bill No. 608, An Act Concerning The DNA Data Bank, provided that post-convicted persons could make application for DNA testing to support a claim of actual innocence. The Bill died in the Senate because of the high cost of funding the expanded data bank. (See Exhibit G: Substitute Senate Bill 608, attached hereto; see also Offender DNA Database Expansion Bills @ www.dnaresource.com).
It is anticipated that the legislation, including the post-conviction DNA testing provision, will be raised again (and eventually enacted). Three years ago, Connecticut passed Public Act 00-80, which amended General Statutes Section 52 -582 by adding the exception authorizing a new trial petition based on DNA evidence not discoverable or available at the time of the original trial. Thus, it seems clear that Connecticut intends to follow the same path that the majority of states (and shortly the federal government) have taken on the issue of ensuring DNA testing to those wrongly convicted.
The movement to afford the wrongly convicted access to DNA testing has also been reflected in court decisions. For example, in Harvey v. Horan, No. 00-1123-A (E.D. Va. 2001), the United States District Court held that “the plaintiff ha[d]…a due process right of access to the DNA evidence and to conduct DNA testing upon biological evidence, as such evidence could constitute material exculpatory material.” Id. at 11 (See Exhibit H: 04/16/01 Memorandum Opinion).
Further, The District Court found that, “denying the plaintiff access to potentially powerful exculpatory evidence would result in…a miscarriage of justice.” Id. at 12. In holding for the plaintiff, the Court specifically rejected the State of Virginia’s argument, raised in its motion for summary judgment, as well as in an earlier motion to dismiss, that such testing should get denied per se because any favorable results obtained from the testing would not undermine the verdict. Id. at 6-13.
Likewise, in Charles v. Greenberg , 2000 WL 1838713 (E.D. La. 2000), the United States District Court held that there was a constitutional basis for access to biological evidence. See also infra pp. 20-23 (discussing the implications of Brady and due process on post-conviction DNA testing requests).
Accordingly, an order permitting mtDNA testing to proceed on the hairs would not be inconsistent with recent court decisions or the major shifts in criminal justice legislation observed over the last three years.
The request for mtDNA testing also has support in constitutional grounds.