Washington, DC (December 11, 2000) -- States should “ensure post-conviction DNA testing” and “improve the quality of legal representation in capital cases” if they want federal forensic science grants, according to an authorization bill passed by the post-election Congress late last week.
“States that accept such financial assistance should not deny the promise of truth and justice for both sides of our adversarial system that DNA testing offers,” the measure reads.
“At some point, states are going to have to get off the dime, or have their funding cut,” said Edward Mallett, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It’s time for them to stop dragging their feet while innocent people sit in prison.”
In the $170 million bill to eliminate DNA testing backlogs sent to President Clinton on Friday, the “sense of Congress” provision cites the more than 75 innocent men and women exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing. That total includes at least eight who were condemned to death row.
The measure also cites the effectiveness of post-conviction DNA testing in leading to the apprehension of actual perpetrators of crimes, and says that making such testing available would not be unduly burdensome to the states.
While not binding on the states at this point, the language is a strong sign of an increasing sensitivity in Congress to fundamental flaws in the justice system as it operates today.
“This is a clear indication that the new Congress will give serious consideration to the pending Innocence Protection Act in the upcoming session,” said Ronald Weich, an NACDL member who has been especially forceful in urging inclusion of the DNA and capital-case language. Weich is outside counsel to the Justice Project, which advocates reform of death penalty procedures.
The findings by Congress in the authorization bill also include:
- That new procedures in DNA testing, which was not widely available in any form before 1994, allow for testing of minute samples and for more accurate results, meaning that definitive results can now be obtained in cases where previous tests were inconclusive.
- That current federal and state time limits on newly discovered evidence make it difficult to get post-conviction DNA testing.
- That most states have not adopted post-conviction DNA testing procedures.
- That “constitutional error” results when incompetent defense lawyers fail to present evidence of innocence or that the death penalty is unwarranted.
- That “fundamental due process and the speedy final resolution of judicial proceedings” requires quality representation for citizens accused of serious crimes.
Congress’ action comes in the wake of not having passed the more-comprehensive proposed Innocence Protection Act of 2000--also known as the Delahunt-LaHood bill, for its sponsors in the House of Representatives, Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Ray LaHood (R-Ill.)--this session. That bill includes provisions which would make mandatory the post-conviction DNA testing and capital defense reforms favored by Congress in the current bill. It also calls for limits on reparations to the wrongfully convicted to be raised to $500,000 in death penalty cases and $250,000 in non-death penalty cases, among other provisions.
“The Innocence Protection Act is one of the key fairness reforms we’d like to see the new Congress pass,” said Mallett, a criminal defense lawyer in Houston. “We’re very pleased to see, at this time, such a strong indication that Congress is willing to guide the states toward these simple but necessary reforms.”
Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence: A Trial Strategy Guide
NACDL’s Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence will assist criminal defense practitioners in scoring points when cross-examining forensic experts in cases involving DNA and biological evidence. This resource contains thousands of questions that will help defense lawyers cross-examine challenging witnesses without reinventing the wheel with each new case. It includes pattern questions that can be used to dominate prosecution DNA experts and level the playing field at trial.
Cross-Examination of the Analyst in Drug Prosecutions (2nd Ed.) By James M. Shellow
Now in its second edition with some new material, James M. Shellow’s book offers what its title promises: ways of thinking about cross-examining the forensic analysts in drug cases. But the book is so much more than that. It offers a look inside the mind of one of the finest cross-examiners and defense lawyers the United States has produced in the last seventy years. This small book can inspire and direct you in making big changes in the way you defend your clients and think about the entire project of trying any case.
Justice For All, Justice Now White T-Shirt (Women’s)
This custom, vintage-faded NACDL t-shirt is 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon weighing 5.2 oz. and is lightwieght, flexible and soft, providing maximum comfort. It features the "Justice For All, Justice Now" slogan and Lady Liberty image on the front, with the NACDL logo on the back. Currently available in both men's and women's sizes in both black and white colors. View the full line-up of colors and sizes on our online store, as well as our other popular and best-selling t-shirt designs at: nacdl.org/store.
Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection - CD-ROM
NACDL’s Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection is the sweeping culmination of every single article of written materials ever published from each installment of NACDL's annual "Defending Modern Drug Cases" seminar. Totaling over 12,000 pages, this vast collection includes 12+ years of motions, briefs, reports, outlines, transcripts, case citations, scholarly articles, powerpoints and other written commentaries. This collection provides trial strategies and tactics you can immediately apply to your current cases.
Mental Illness & the Law: Addressing and Litigating Behavioral Health Disorders in Criminal Cases
Whether it is insanity, impairment, a disorder, or adolescent brain development; mental health and intellectual competence issues affect pretrial supervision, trial and sentencing, and your chances of successfully advocating for your impaired client. This training provides ideas and proven solutions to assist you in advocating for your client during trial, whether it be insanity defenses, jury selection, cross of expert witnesses, persuasion, or mitigation at sentencing.
NACDL Communications Department
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.