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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Law - " Laws are needed to remove the [Codis] databases from the exclusive grip of prosecutors and law enforcement to make them available to defense lawyers"

Some quotes from a front-page NY Times story Friday headed "Lawyers, Saying DNA Cleared Inmate, Pursue Access to Data," reported by Ethan Bronner:

If proceedings go as his lawyers hope, Mr. Buffey’s story will be one more in the several hundred exonerations nationwide brought about partly by new DNA techniques, many involving false confessions. But it took 18 months of litigation to get the state to test the DNA against its database of felons, and Mr. Buffey’s lawyers say his case is therefore something more: proof that laws are needed to remove the databases from the exclusive grip of prosecutors and law enforcement to make them available to defense lawyers.

“There is incredible exculpatory power in the databases that the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on over the years,” said Nina Morrison, a senior lawyer in the case. “But law enforcement runs the databases, and even when you go to court to force their hand, they throw up roadblocks. And judges say they don’t have the power to force them.”

Steven Benjamin, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said getting access to these databases was a major concern and one that is on the agenda of his group’s winter meeting next month in Washington.

“This is a national problem, a huge and recurring one,” he said. “Juries expect the defense to be able to prove that if your client didn’t do it, who did? Science doesn’t belong to the government, but they act like it does. Unless the defense is given access to this information, the playing field remains uneven in criminal justice.”

Almost every state has a law permitting some post-conviction DNA testing (although the Supreme Court has ruled that it is not a constitutional right). But only nine — Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas — have laws granting defendants access to the DNA databases, known as the Combined DNA Index System, or Codis.

Many legal experts, even some prosecutors, think that number needs to be greatly expanded as states and the federal government increase the size of the databases.

“You’d think there would be a federal rule or a statute in every state creating the clear obligation to do a Codis search in any case where the defense wants it,” said Brandon L. Garrett, a professor of law at the University of Virginia.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 6, 2013 06:23 PM
Posted to General Law Related