Thursday, August 2, 2018
The pertinent portion of Illinois's postconviction DNA testing statute, 725 ILCS 5/116-3(b), provides in relevant part that:
The defendant must present a prima facie case that:
(1) identity was the issue in the trial of guilty plea which resulted in his or her conviction; and
(2) the evidence to be tested has been subject to a chain of custody sufficient to establish that it has not been substituted, tampered with, replaced, or altered in any material aspect.
So, where does that leave pleading defendants?
As the language of the statute makes clear, pleading defendants can seek postconviction DNA testing in Illinois. But this wasn't always the case. Prior to 2014, pleading defendants in Illinois could not seek postconviction DNA testing. The Appellate Court of Illinois in People v. Urioste, finding that
our legislature wanted postconviction forensic testing to occur only in those cases where such testing could discover new evidence at sharp odds with a previously rendered guilty verdict based upon criminal acts that the defendant denied having engaged in. Our legislature did not want convicted defendants who admitted at their trial to the commission of the acts charged, and did not contest the question of who committed those acts, to make a mockery of the criminal justice system and the statute’s grace. It did not want defendants who tendered unsuccessful affirmative defenses at their trial to later disavow the commission of the acts charged, just so they could obtain postconviction testing of evidence meaningless to how they contested their guilt.
In 2014, however, the Illinois legislature changed its law largely due to the case of Phillip McDowell, who "pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing an acquaintance in 1989 after he says courtroom deputies beat him and he feared he would be assaulted again when he was returned to Cook County Jail."