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Colorado governor signs expanded access to post-conviction DNA testing

Just three individuals in 20 years were exonerated under the state’s previous law.

DENVER (CN) — More Coloradans who have been convicted of a crime will be able to obtain post-conviction DNA testing, thanks to a new law signed by Governor Jared Polis on Friday.

The bipartisan bill unanimously passed through both chambers in the Legislature. The new law lowers the bar for individuals convicted of crimes to seek DNA testing of evidence.

“At the end of the day, nobody benefits when the wrong person is behind bars. So this is something that criminal defense attorneys agree on, prosecutors agree on, victims rights groups agree on,” said Jeanne Segil, staff attorney and policy director at the Kore Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado. The organization supported the measure.

“You want to make sure that the person who has been locked up is the right person and if it’s the wrong person, then you want to know who the right person is," Segil added.

When the law takes effect in October, the Korey Wise Innocence Project plants to request DNA testing in several cases where incarcerated individuals assert their innocence.

During the last 20 years Colorado has allowed post-conviction DNA testing, just three people have been exonerated under the law.

One man, Robert Dewey, spent 18 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of 19-year-old Jacie Taylor in Palisade, Colorado. Under the original law, a Colorado judge denied Dewey's request for post-conviction DNA testing after finding he didn’t meet the state’s standard. Dewey was exonerated after the Innocence Project and the state attorney general took up his case.

The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center estimates the criminal justice system has a 3 to 6% error rate, leading to thousands of people who are wrongfully imprisoned.

"Under current law, an incarcerated person can motion the court for post-conviction DNA testing to prove the person's actual innocence if DNA testing was not available at the time of the person's prosecution,” the bill summary said.

The bar of "actual innocence" has been tough to meet. With this law, petitions must only show a reasonable probability that they wouldn’t have been convicted had the DNA evidence been available.

In acknowledgement of vast developments in DNA analysis over the years, the law also allows DNA to be retested as new technology becomes available.

Rather than limiting relief to those who are incarcerated, post-conviction analysis may also be requested by individuals who are on parole, probation or on the sex offender registration, as well as those who have completed sentences.

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