New Jersey lawmakers recently passed a bill that will make it easier for criminal defendants to gain access to DNA testing that could potentially prove their innocence. A bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the NJ Senate and the NJ Assembly in June, now heads to the desk of Gov. Chris Christie for final approval. Supporters of the bill hope the governor will quickly sign off on the legislation so that wrongfully convicted individuals will have an easier time getting exonerated.
If enacted, the new law would recognize it is an injustice that defendants who were previously convicted, but no longer serving their sentences, are unable to challenge their conviction and prove their innocence through DNA testing. In many cases, these defendants either did not know they had a right to access certain technologies or did not have the legal expertise needed to prove their innocence.
Under existing NJ law, the state is not required to pay for DNA testing procedures unless the criminal defendant has been incarcerated. In other words, the defendant must first be convicted and sentenced to prison before they can access forensic DNA testing that could prove their innocence.
This is a particular problem for defendants who do not have the financial resources to pay for their own legal services, let alone additional testing of evidence. It also excludes defendants who were wrongfully convicted but did not receive a term of incarceration, as well as defendants who were wrongfully convicted, served their prison sentences and are now stuck with criminal records.
One of the bill’s sponsors, NJ Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, observed that the current law does not allow an innocent person who is on probation or parole to access the technology that could potentially “clear their name and restore their dignity.” There are also real-world implications for individuals who were convicted and are no longer serving prison time. For example, anyone convicted of a sex crime in New Jersey may be forced to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law even after they are released from prison.
In recognition of these difficulties for innocent criminal defendants who were wrongfully convicted, the NJ Legislature has passed A1678. The bill removes the incarceration requirement for criminal defendants who wish to use DNA testing to prove their innocence. The bill also authorizes courts to order law enforcement to submit DNA evidence to a national database to determine whether the evidence matches a known individual or a DNA profile from an unsolved crime.
The legislation was strongly backed by the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic that uses post-conviction DNA testing to prove the innocence of wrongfully convicted defendants. According to the Innocence Project, among the 317 wrongfully convicted people who have been exonerated as a result of DNA testing, seven are from New Jersey.
If you have been accused of a crime, or if you were previously convicted of a crime, your best course of action is to hire an experienced attorney who understands the nuances of criminal laws in New Jersey. The knowledgeable lawyers at Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan, LLC will do what is necessary to combat the charges against you and make sure that you have access to all available resources for your defense. Call us today.