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Idaho inmates may get more opportunity for DNA tests

Idaho inmates may get more opportunity for DNA tests

by
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 18, 2010
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
Author Image
March 18, 2010

Idaho prisoners could get more time to request a DNA test to prove their innocence. The Idaho Senate approved legislation that would eliminate the one-year window after conviction for offenders to ask for a DNA or fingerprint test. Offenders who plead guilty to a crime could also request a post-conviction test.

“This is a matter of fairness,” said Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, who sponsored the measure. It’s a matter of justice.” He said the current one-year time limit doesn’t make sense to him, and that 35 other states have similar laws allowing DNA testing after an inmate’s conviction. Bock said DNA testing offers a new option to verify whether someone is guilty. “We have a new tool to make sure that people who are in a penitentiary actually should be there,” he said.

Offenders would need to pay for the new DNA test themselves, unless a court finds they are unable to pay for it. “This is an expense the inmate would actually incur,” Bock said. The legislation’s fiscal note says that the state would likely pay a maximum of $1,000 a year for two DNA tests, and that exonerating a prisoner would reduce prison expenses by $20,000 a year.

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, was one of two senators to vote against the plan. He said the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposes the legislation, and that removing the one-year limit to request a test would force the state to keep evidence indefinitely. “There will be a cost associated with that,” Darrington said. “It will not be insignificant.” He also said requests from convicts could lead to unnecessary court action. “There will be some clogging of the courts for no good reason.” Darrington said the change could be the first of several legal changes in the pipeline coming from the Innocence Project, a national organization working to exonerate people in prison.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said expanding the use of DNA would help Idaho keep up with the latest scientific advancements. “Technology changes, and it changes dramatically over time,” he said.

The House approved the plan 68-0 on Feb. 22. The legislation now heads to the governor. The text of the legislation, HB498, is available here.

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