Alabama's New Law Providing DNA Testing Has Limitations

Alabama has adopted new legislation that allows some inmates to obtain DNA testing on old evidence.  However, critics have pointed out important limitations in the new law.  The new procedure is limited to inmates who were convicted of capital crimes, including those on death row.  The Department of Forensic Sciences requested this limitation because they believed they did not have the resources to handle a larger class of cases.  Even those convicted of a capital crime face further hurdles.  For example, the law requires petitioners to show that the identity of the guilty party was “at issue in the trial that resulted in the conviction.”  In cases where a confession existed or the inmate pled guilty, DNA testing could be denied. DNA technology has cleared people in those circumstances before, yet this law precludes testing in such cases.  Some see the legislation as at least a beginning in a state that was one of the very last in the country to adopt a law to provide after-the-fact DNA testing in criminal cases.

(Editorial Board, “OUR VIEW: Alabama has a new law expanding the state's DNA database and setting up a process for Death Row inmates to get DNA tests on old evidence,” Birmingham News, June 1, 2009).  See Recent Legislation and Innocence.