Sen. Ted Lieu introduces Innocence Project-backed plan to allow expanded DNA testing

March 20, 2014

Measure would make it easier for wrongfully convicted prisoners to obtain testing

SACRAMENTO – Wrongfully convicted prisoners would have improved access to scientific testing of evidence under a plan announced today by Sen. Ted Lieu and backed by the rights group Innocence Project.

Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, cited research showing that recent improvements in technology related to DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, has led directly to the exonerations of hundreds of innocent people, adding that Senate Bill 980 would protect those for whom justice has fallen short.

“One of the greatest injustices a government can commit is wrongfully convicting and imprisoning innocent people while the true perpetrator remains free to prey on all of us,” said Lieu, a former Air Force JAG prosecutor who remains a lieutenant colonel in the active military reserves.

Specifically, there have been 311 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States since 1989. Exonerations through post-conviction DNA testing have been won in 36 states. Since the year 2000, there have been 244 post-conviction DNA exonerations. DNA is a molecule that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and many viruses.

“These DNA-exoneration cases have provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events, but arise from systemic defects that can be precisely identified and addressed,” Lieu said.
Specifically, SB 980 would:
• Clarify the standard required to get DNA testing.
• Allow individuals requesting DNA testing access to, and require police departments to provide, biological materials once counsel is appointed.
• Require DNA evidence to be run through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System in those cases where DNA findings come back as a negative match for the defendant.
• Improve protection of biological evidence by increasing the period of notification prior to disposal.
• Allow courts to take appropriate actions when DNA evidence was destroyed in violation of code.

SB 980 is sponsored by the California Innocence Project and the Northern California Innocence Project.

“There have been more than 300 people nationwide who were proven innocent through the use of post-conviction DNA testing,” Alex Simpson, associate director of the California Innocence Project, said.  “Many of these people served decades in prison for crimes they didn't commit.  SB 980 would help ensure that innocent people get access to evidence that can prove their innocence.”

The date for the initial policy hearing on SB 980 has not yet been set.

For more, including a Fact Sheet on SB 980, visit Lieu’s Web site at the address below.

Ted W. Lieu chairs the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee and represents the more than 1.3 million residents of Senate District 28, which includes the cities of Beverly Hills, Carson, El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Lomita, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Santa Monica, Torrance, West Hollywood and the Palos Verdes Peninsula as well as portions of Long Beach and Los Angeles including, Beverly Glen, Brentwood, Cheviot Hills, Harbor City, Hollywood Hills, Marina del Rey, Mar Vista, Pacific Palisades, Playa del Rey, San Pedro, Venice, Westwood and Wilmington. See a district map at: http://sd28.senate.ca.gov/district-28-map. For more, visit www.senate.ca.gov/lieu.