Thursday, July 26, 2018
The pertinent portions of Florida's postconviction DNA testing statute provide as follows:
Section 925.11(1)(a)(2): A person who has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a felony prior to July 1, 2006, and has been sentenced by a court established by the laws of this state may petition that court to order the examination of physical evidence collected at the time of the investigation of the crime for which he or she has been sentenced that may contain DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and that would exonerate that person.
Section 925.12(1): For defendants who have entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a felony on or after July 1, 2006, a defendant may petition for postsentencing DNA testing under s. 925.11 under the following circumstances:
(a) The facts on which the petition is predicated were unknown to the petitioner or the petitioner’s attorney at the time the plea was entered and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence; or
(b) The physical evidence for which DNA testing is sought was not disclosed to the defense by the state prior to the entry of the plea by the petitioner.
So, where does that leave pleading defendants?
In a lot better position than pleading defendants before 2006. In Stewart v. State (2003), Willie Stewart pleaded nolo contendere to sexual battery and later claimed that DNA testing of evidence in the State’s possession would exonerate him. At the time, however, Florida’s postconviction DNA testing statute provided that a defendant “who has been tried and found guilty of committing a crime” may petition the court for DNA testing. The District Court of Appeal therefore denied Stewart relief, concluding that “[a] defendant who enters a plea of guilty or nolo contendere may not seek postconviction DNA testing based on language of the statute.”
Based on cases like Stewart, the Florida legislature later changed its postconviction DNA testing statute so that pleading defendants can seek testing. As the statute indicates, any defendant who pleaded guilty before July 1, 2006 can seek DNA testing if they meet the statutory requirements that apply to everyone. Conversely, defendants who pleaded guilty on or after July 1, 2006 have two additional statutory requirements that they must satisfy.