HARRISBURG – Legislation that would better allow DNA technology to ensure the right criminals are behind bars was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, according to the bills’ sponsor, Rep. Tedd Nesbit (R-Mercer/Butler).
“Over the past few years, we’ve heard of several cases in which the incarcerated individual could not have committed the crime, and DNA technology was used to exonerate him or her,” Nesbit said. “Likewise, DNA technology has proven immensely valuable in putting the right criminals behind bars. By using DNA technology to its maximum benefit, we not only ensure the right people are behind bars, but taxpayers save considerable expense years down the road.”
One of the bills Nesbit sponsored that cleared the House Judiciary Committee was House Bill 2307, which would help innocent people present new evidence challenging their wrongful convictions, whether through newly available DNA or other types of evidence. The measure 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.
Similarly, the second measure, House Bill 2308, 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 in committee 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.
“I appreciate my colleagues in committee expanding my legislation and improving it so that the database of DNA samples can be used for other cases,” Nesbit said. “Both of these bills also help law enforcement better prosecute criminals, get them off the streets and protect our communities. We have the right tools at our disposal, and our laws should be updated so that we can make the best use of them.”
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.
The bills now go to the full House for consideration.
Representative Tedd Nesbit
8th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton