Sep. 25, 2018

HARRISBURG – Working to maximize the value of DNA in solving crimes and ensuring justice is served, the House Judiciary Committee approved two measures updating the Commonwealth’s DNA laws Tuesday, said Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming/Union), who chaired the meeting.

“DNA evidence has the power to help solve cold cases, exonerate the innocent and ensure the true perpetrator pays the price for his or her crimes,” Everett said. “By modernizing our laws to enhance collection of DNA samples, we can help ensure justice is served for crime victims.”

House Bill 2307, sponsored by Rep. Tedd Nesbit (R-Mercer/Butler), would improve the Post-Conviction Relief Act to help innocent people present new evidence challenging their wrongful convictions, whether through newly available DNA or other types of evidence. The bill also would extend the period within which a petition for post-conviction relief based on newly discovered evidence must be filed, from the current 60 days from the date the claim could have been presented, to one year. Finally, the bill would establish standards of conduct of investigators and others working on behalf of a defendant or the defendant’s counsel.

House Bill 2308, also sponsored by Nesbit, would modify the process for a defendant to file a petition for DNA testing by eliminating the requirement that the person who requests testing be serving a term of imprisonment or awaiting execution after being sentenced to death; expanding the current requirement that the defendant show that DNA technology was not available to test evidence discovered prior to trial; and permitting testing to be done at any time if the motion is timely and made for the purpose of demonstrating actual innocence and not to delay execution of the sentence or the administration of justice.

House Bill 2308 was amended to further improve the state’s DNA collection practices by expanding the types of convictions that would require collection of DNA samples. Under current law, samples are required to be collected from persons convicted, adjudicated delinquent for felony sex offenses and other specified offenses, a term which includes all other felonies and certain misdemeanor sex offenses. The legislation would expand the list of other specified offenses to include first-degree misdemeanors, as well as several types of second-degree misdemeanors, including simple assault, indecent exposure, intimidation or retaliation of witnesses or victims, abuse of corpse and more.

The amendment is based on House Bill 1523, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Lower Paxton), which passed the House last summer and is awaiting action in the Senate. Eight states, including New York, New Jersey and Virginia, have taken similar action to expand their DNA requirements. Since the law was enacted in New York six years ago, there have been 1,875 hits on profiles obtained just from those convicted of low-grade theft. Of these, matches were made in 357 sexual assaults, 246 robberies, 196 larcenies and 810 burglaries. DNA samples from simple assault convictions resulted in 803 matches, including 222 sexual assaults, 51 homicides, 117 robberies and 407 burglaries.

In addition to measures impacting DNA evidence, also unanimously approved the following bills, sending them to the full House for consideration:
• House Bill 901 would add local code enforcement officials to the list of specially protected classifications under the offense of aggravated assault. An aggravated assault of a person in a special classification elevates the grading of the crime.
• House Bill 2437 would amend the Domestic Relations, Crimes and Judiciary codes to more fully incorporate the offense of “strangulation” into current law. The changes ensure that the offense is treated similarly to other crimes of violence in the context of sentencing and protection against domestic abuse and sexual violence.
• House Bill 2476 would allow a correctional officer employed at or assigned to a state correctional institution to carry and store one lawfully owned handgun and ammunition in a vehicle at a state correctional institution.

Representative Garth D. Everett
84th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

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