DNA Testing to be required in Death Penalty Cases

Since 1989, Texas courts have exonerated 131 individuals convicted of crimes through various means. These convictions go back as far as 1966. To date, 54 Texas inmates have been exonerated by DNA evidence alone. Two of these inmates were on death row when the courts exonerated them.

A new law becomes effective on September 1, 2013. This year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that will require law enforcement test DNA evidence in all death penalty cases. The new bill does not prevent a case from proceeding if there is not DNA evidence. It just requires the state to test any biological evidence collected as part of the investigation.

Unless resources to the state labs are increased, this new measure could increase the amount of time it takes to perform DNA testing. The result may be increased jail populations while prosecutors wait for the results of DNA tests before trial.

However, the finality of the punishment in capital cases is the chief concern for many of capital punishments opponents. When the State executes and inmate, there is no undo button. There are several safeguards in place already, but Texas courts have exonerated two men while on death row. Legislators took the opportunity this session to appease the capital punishment opponents without upsetting its proponents.

The majority of exonerations occurred for non-death penalty offenses. The State of Texas will not be abolishing the death penalty anytime soon, but it should concern all Texans if even one innocent person winds up on death row. Ultimately, this new law will serve as a safety valve to prevent an innocent person from receiving the death penalty.

To review information about the people exonerated across the country, click here.

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