The New Jersey Legislature has recently passed a bill that expands the availability of DNA testing to all criminal defendants who say they were wrongfully convicted. Prior to this bill, only defendants who were incarcerated on a criminal offense could take advantage of DNA testing at the cost of the state. New Jersey was one of only 14 states to have this incarceration requirement, which has now been eliminated with the passage of this bill.
“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,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson. “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.”
The bill, which gained final legislative approval by the Senate on June 29, 2015, now goes to Governor Christie for consideration. The bill would have a number of effects on the use of DNA testing in New Jersey, including:
Motion by Criminal Defendants: Any person who has been convicted of a crime may make a motion before the court for forensic DNA testing, whether or not the person is currently imprisoned.
Private Laboratories: The bill would allow private laboratories to conduct DNA tests on behalf of defendants, rather than forcing defendants to rely on state or local laboratories that are often overburdened.
Forensic DNA Testing and DNA Database: The bill provides the court with specific authority to order law enforcement to submit crime scene evidence to the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) for a search on whether the evidence matches another person. The bill would also amend the 1994 DNA Database and Databank Act to allow defendants’ access to DNA evidence collected from crime scenes to be used for defense purposes.
The legislation is particularly important for those who claim they were wrongfully convicted of sex crimes, who would be placed on the Sex Offender Registry unless they are exonerated. Vanessa Potkin, Senior Staff Attorney for the Innocence Project, said, “It’s a small but important group of people.” However, the waiting list is currently around 10 years. “We’re trying to reduce that,” said Potkin.
In addition, people in New Jersey who have been wrongfully incarcerated for crimes they did not commit are eligible for monetary compensation if they were convicted by a jury and did not plead guilty to receive a lesser sentence. In 2013, Governor Christie approved legislation for a person wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for a crime to receive up to $50,000 for each year they spent behind bars.
If you have been arrested for a criminal offense, you need experienced legal representation. Call the attorneys at the Rosenblum Law Firm for a free consultation at 888-979-7551.