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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Vermont Legislature Considers Bill Granting Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing

At Senate and House judiciary hearings tomorrow, Dennis Maher, a wrongly convicted man who was exonerated through DNA testing, and Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom will testify in favor of legislation (VT HB 50, and VT SB 6) to improve the accuracy of the state's criminal justice system and grant post-conviction access to DNA testing.

Vermont, which has yet to adopt many of the protections other states have, would become a model of criminal justice reform with the passage of the two bills. The House bill, introduced by Representatives Margaret Flory and Richard Marek, includes the following proposed reforms:

  • grants prisoners access to post-conviction DNA testing
  • mandates that law enforcement record all custodial interrogations
  • requires law enforcement to establish rules regarding eyewitness identification procedures to minimize the possibility of a misidentification.
  • permits wrongly convicted persons to file for compensation from the state
  • creates a forensic laboratory oversight commission.

Several of these provisions have been adopted by other states and municipalities. Vermont is one of only nine states that lack a post-conviction DNA access statute and one of 29 states that do not have legislation providing compensation for the wrongly convicted. The practice of recording custodial interrogations, an important safeguard against false confessions, has been voluntarily adopted by more than 350 jurisdictions. Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia require the taping of interrogations in homicide cases. Eyewitness identification reforms have been implemented in the state of New Jersey, as well as large cities like Minneapolis and Seattle. The Innocence Project and state and local advocates have helped pass these laws. [Michele Berry]

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