Allow DNA testing; inmates should have chance to prove innocence

February 14, 2013 

If you are unjustly convicted of a serious violent crime in Kentucky, your chances of ever getting justice might be better if you wind up on Death Row.

That's because, the way Kentucky law now stands, only those sentenced to die are guaranteed the right to DNA testing to exonerate themselves.

Alabama is the only other state that does things this way.

It doesn't seem fair, and it's not. That's why it's time for the General Assembly to extend the right to DNA testing to all people serving time for violent crimes.

Inmates not on Death Row are basically stuck with the luck of the draw. One from Louisville was released from prison in 2011 after a judge there allowed DNA and other evidence that showed his innocence. In Campbell County, though, another inmate struck out when his request for DNA testing was denied by a judge there.

That's way too haphazard for a justice system. Plus, if people who are innocent sit in prison that means those who actually committed the crimes have not been brought to justice.

This is the fourth year there's been legislation before the Kentucky General Assembly to fix this, but only the first that bills have been offered in both the House and the Senate. Past efforts started and ended in the House, without ever reaching the floor.

But this year John Schickel, a conservative Republican from Union, offered Senate Bill 23, and Democrat Johnny Bell of Glasgow authored the House version, House Bill 41. That bipartisan support has made a difference. Bell's bill passed out of committee yesterday with no changes. Schikel's passed the Senate 38-0 Tuesday with amendments added in committee to exclude those who plead guilty or take an Alford Plea (a plea in which the defendant acknowledges the evidence is likely enough to convict him but does not plead guilty.)

We know innocent people plead guilty, or take Alford pleas, to avoid extremely harsh sentences, or the death penalty or, sometimes, because their attorneys were incompetent. Supporters in the Senate weren't happy with the amendments but were thrilled to get this far and so voted for the altered version.

The House should go even further by passing a bill without the changes and sending it on the Senate for final action.

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