Editorials

A change in DNA testing law

Since passage of a state law in 2001 allowing post-conviction DNA testing, 52 people in Texas have been proved innocent of the crimes for which they were wrongfully convicted, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has said.

But an amendment to that bill in 2011 to insure that “biological material” would be tested has proven to be flawed based on a ruling last year by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in the case of one convicted man seeking DNA testing.

The court denied the request of Larry Ray Swearingen to test a piece of pantyhose used in the 1998 strangulation of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter in Montgomery County. The court said all evidence to be tested “must first be proven to contain biological evidence.”

In the case of non-visible biological matter like saliva, sweat or skin cells, how does one prove it’s there before material has been tested? You can’t.

To clear up the issue Ellis has filed new legislation, SB 487, which says a convicted person may ask the court “for forensic DNA testing of evidence that there is a reasonable likelihood of containing biological material.”

It seems like a minor change, but it is major if it can help free an innocent person.

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