Opinion

DNA law is needed

If a DNA test can free an innocent person from prison, the state should provide a path for inmates to request a test.

South Carolina now is one of only six states that has no state law allowing inmates to seek exoneration through DNA testing. Recently, state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, introduced a bill known as the Post-Conviction DNA Procedures Act that would give an inmate the right to apply for DNA testing of evidence in the county in which he or she was convicted.

Approval of the test would not be automatic; the court could dismiss the application. But if the test were approved, victims would be notified and the solicitor would be required to secure all evidence that might subjected to testing.

Some critics worry that crime victims would be burdened with reliving the crime, especially after many of them already have endured that discomfort during a trial. Lawmakers also must wrestle with the difficulty of preserving evidence that might be tested. And there is the question of who will pay the estimated millions of dollars required to run the program.

But the bill's supporters, including many prosecutors, support allowing convicts the right to seek DNA testing. The cost and inconvenience are insignificant, they argue, if the tests keep innocent people from serving time in prison.

With 44 other states already allowing prisoners the right to request DNA tests, we see no reason why South Carolina should hold out against the tests.

DNA testing has proven its value in exonerating the innocent. While the results of the tests are not always definitive, they do have the capability of eliminating people as suspects or pointing a finger at the real culprit.

In a number of recent cases, prisoners have been freed after spending years in jail, only because of DNA testing. Part of the reasons they had to wait that long was because DNA testing wasn't widely used until the 1990s. Now, with procedures that are easily administered and accurate, the tests are becoming more widespread.

As a result, innocent people may spend less time behind bars before being exonerated. Also, the evidence is likely to be fresher.

A national organization known as The Innocence Project lobbies for the use of DNA technology to help wrongly convicted inmates. Barry Scheck, a member of the O.J. Simpson defense team and a co-founder of The Innocence Project, spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee recently in support of Malloy's bill.

"Simply put, nobody wins when an innocent person is convicted," Scheck said. "Not the victims, the police, the prosecutors, the courts or the public."

That sentiment seems unassailable. We hope that DNA testing becomes commonplace in any case where evidence could provide an answer as to the guilt or innocence of a prisoner.

And we hope that as this testing does become more common, South Carolina has a law in place that gives inmates a right to request it.

IN SUMMARY

State should pass law allowing inmates to request DNA testing to prove innocence.

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