The Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG) applauds Governor Patrick for signing and Representative John Fernandes and Senator Cynthia Creem for championing S.1987, an Act providing access to forensic and scientific analysis. This vital legislation allows Massachusetts to join the 48 other states that grant their citizens the statutory right to their own DNA to prove their innocence after they have been convicted of a crime. CRG twice testified in support of the legislation and applauds the partner organizations with which it has worked diligently for three years in support of this new law including the Massachusetts ACLU, the New England Innocence Project and the Massachusetts Bar Association.
The first exoneration through DNA testing occurred in 1989. That’s twenty years ago. Since then, over 280 people in the United States alone have been exonerated by DNA testing after they were convicted of a crime including a number of individuals who had originally pled guilty and almost twenty people on death row. The innocent individuals had served an average of 13 1/2 years in prison before exoneration and release. Consider the case of Neil Miller, convicted of aggravated rape and breaking and entering in Boston almost entirely on eye-witness testimony. He was sentenced to twenty-six to forty-five years in prison. After serving almost ten years in prison he was exonerated by DNA testing. Or consider the case of Anthony Powell, who served twelve years of a 12-20 year sentence in a Massachusetts state prison after being erroneously convicted for kidnapping and rape by eye-witness testimony. He was exonerated by DNA testing. No one should have to sacrifice so much of their life.
The Council for Responsible Genetics believes that all people have the right to DNA tests to defend themselves in criminal proceedings. While we must remain vigilant that DNA samples are handled properly and that safeguards against mistakes are adopted, we must ensure that post conviction DNA testing is available.
CRG President Jeremy Gruber offered his congratulations declaring: “Threats to liberty remain ever present today; nowhere more so than in the interplay between cutting-edge technology and its ability to both promote and undermine freedom. Fundamental fairness dictates that if the state of Massachusetts has the evidence that would establish guilt or innocence of an individual; it is incumbent upon it to seek the truth. Our criminal justice system cannot be allowed to place obstacles in the way of post-conviction DNA testing that could determine whether the wrong people have been convicted and punished for crimes they did not commit. The right to liberty, to defend one’s innocence and prevent continued unjust incarceration is paramount. I congratulate the Massachusetts legislature for passing, and Governor Patrick for signing, this critical legislation.”