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Senate Approves Easing Restrictions on DNA Testing

The Senate today passed a bill that would reduce restrictions on post-conviction DNA testing by allowing biological evidence that was previously untested, or tested by older, potentially inaccurate techniques, to be tested and used as evidence in court.

Hank Skinner was sentenced to death for the 1993 triple slaying of his girlfriend and her two sons.

Prisoners in Texas may get easier access to post-conviction DNA testing to prove their innocence. The Senate today passed a bill that would reduce restrictions on post-conviction DNA testing by allowing biological evidence that was previously untested, or tested by older, potentially inaccurate techniques, to be tested and used as evidence in court. 

"SB 122 will ensure that if there is DNA evidence available to prove someone's innocence, it can and will be tested," said State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, author of the bill, in a statement. "No longer will the door to justice be shut just because of a procedural error."

Existing law limits post-conviction DNA testing. An inmate can only get testing if at the time of conviction DNA testing was unavailable, if the technology was incapable of providing adequate results, or if the DNA was not tested by “no fault of the convicted person.” 

If DNA testing is used to exonerate a prisoner, the bill also has a provision requiring the DNA profile to be compared to the federal CODIS DNA database to help find the actual perpetrator. 

The bill could have serious implications for prisoners who claim DNA evidence could prove their innocence, such as with Hank Skinner, a death row inmate who recently won a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing him to pursue post-conviction DNA testing in federal court. Ellis said DNA testing would help Texas identify innocent death row inmates before they are executed. 

Ellis also cited the case of Ricardo Rachell, a man exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing in Harris County. After being physically disfigured by a shotgun wound to the face, Rachell was falsely accused of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy. He served six years of a 40-year sentence before DNA testing proved he was innocent. 

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