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Legislature Provides Access to DNA Testing that May Prove Innocence

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law recently that will provide Oklahomans the right to DNA testing that could prove they were wrongly convicted. The legislation (HB 1068) passed unanimously through both chambers of the Oklahoma State Legislature. There was not a single dissenting vote, in committee or on the floor, in either house of the Legislature. Gov. Fallin signed the measure just one day after final legislative approval. With the governor’s signature,Oklahoma became the 50th and final state to pass a post-conviction DNA testing law.

Since1989 when DNA testing first became available as a forensic tool, 306 people who were wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit have been exonerated by DNA evidence nationwide. Ten of these exonerations occurred in Oklahoma. In six of those cases, the DNA evidence that exonerated the wrongfully convicted person led to the conviction of the true perpetrators of those crimes.

HB 1068was sponsored by Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) and Senator Jim Halligan (R-Stillwater). The law was prompted by a recommendation issued by the Oklahoma Justice Commission in November 2012. The justice commission, which was created in 2010 by the Oklahoma Bar Association, is chaired by former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson. Under Edmondson’s leadership, the commission issued several recommendations to help prevent and rectify wrongful convictions in Oklahoma.The DNA testing legislation is the first of those recommendations to be implemented by the Oklahoma Legislature.

Edmondson said, “This bill was unanimously recommended by our commission, which is made up of district attorneys, law enforcement agencies, judges, victims’ advocates,as well as defense lawyers. It is an example of the careful, even-handed work of the commission, and we are grateful for the Legislature’s prompt passage of this important bill. We look forward to working with the Legislature next year as we seek to implement our additional recommendations that we believe will make Oklahoma’s criminal justice system a model for the nation.”

Oklahoma’s new law is being hailed nationally as one of the most comprehensive in the nation. It allows DNA testing in violent felony cases and in cases resulting in a sentence of 25 years or greater, if such testing could provide proof of innocence. Statutes in some other states are more limited. The Oklahoma law,however, includes safeguards to prevent frivolous requests for testing.

The commission’s full report is available online.