Thursday, July 19, 2018
The pertinent portion of Arkansas's postconviction DNA testing statute, Ark.Code Ann. § 16-112-202(7), provides in relevant part that:
Except when direct appeal is available, a person convicted of a crime may make a motion for the performance of fingerprinting, forensic deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing, or other tests which may become available through advances in technology to demonstrate the person's actual innocence if:....
(7) The identity of the perpetrator was at issue during the investigation or prosecution of the offense being challenged under § 16-112-201.
So, where does that leave pleading defendants?
In 1996, Elwyn Graham pleaded guilty to capital murder in Arkansas. He later filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, (1) claiming that he was mentally ill and that his plea was coerced; and (2) seeking to have a hair recovered at the crime scene tested to obtain a profile of the mitochondrial DNA contained in it. The Supreme Court of Arkansas ultimately denied Graham relief, concluding that Arkansas’s postconviction DNA testing statute only covers defendants convicted after trials and does not protect pleading defendants. According to the court, by pleading guilty to capital murder, Graham “admitted that he committed the offense. His identity was thus not in question.”
Arkansas thus precludes pleading defendants from seeking postconviction DNA testing.