It's telling that the prosecutor who oversees more criminal cases than anyone in Kentucky recently testified in favor of expanding the availability of post-conviction DNA testing.
We don't usually expect prosecutors to help convicts get out of jail. But when the wrong person is locked up, the individual who actually committed a violent crime is not held accountable and our system of justice has failed.
Everyone has a stake in getting it right, which is why Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel of Louisville urged the approval of House Bill 178.
Under current Kentucky law, only a Death Row prisoner is guaranteed the opportunity to seek post-conviction DNA testing that might exonerate him.
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HB 178 would guarantee all individuals convicted of certain felonies or violent crimes who are in prison or on probation or parole the chance to seek DNA testing.
The bill has provisions to protect the courts from being bogged down by a flood of frivolous requests.
Applicants would be required to pay for the testing unless the Department of Public Advocacy determines a reasonable person spending his own money would be willing to pay for the testing under the circumstances of the case. Then the cost would go through existing channels for paying defense costs.
Also, a judge would have to rule there's a reasonable probability the person would not have been convicted had there been DNA evidence clearing him.
DNA evidence recently was used to free a Louisville man, Kerry Porter, who served almost 15 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Stengel recommended his release late last year. Porter was represented by the Kentucky Innocence Project. A Jefferson County judge ordered DNA testing in Porter's case, even though he was not required to hear the request.
Meanwhile, another Innocence Project client, William Virgil, who is serving 70 years for a murder he says he did not commit, was denied the right to DNA testing by a circuit judge in Northern Kentucky after a prosecutor argued that the law does not require it.
The state Supreme Court refused to expedite his appeal, which means Virgil — and others in the future who might be cleared by DNA testing — could be waiting years for an appeal to wind through the courts.
That is, unless Kentucky does what all the states except Alabama have done and approve this fair and reasonable approach to aligning justice with science.