DNA Testing Mandate Gets Early House Approval

The Texas House gave early approval on Tuesday to a requirement that the Department of Public Safety perform DNA testing on all biological evidence prior to the start of cases that involve the death penalty.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, c, discusses SB 1292 on pre-trial DNA testing March 19, 2013 with Sen. Robert Duncan, l, and Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott.

A bill that would require DNA testing of relevant evidence before trial begins in death penalty cases sailed through the Texas House Tuesday on a unanimous vote, setting it up for a final vote before heading to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 1292, by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would require that laboratories run by the Department of Public Safety complete the testing of “all biological evidence that was collected as part of an investigation” before a defendant is tried for a capital offense.

Ellis, a chairman of the board of the national Innocence Project, said in a statement that the measure was a “modest but vitally important reform" that would will reduce the risk that the state could make "the ultimate mistake" by executing an innocent person. 

DNA testing sometimes occurs piecemeal as a case winds its way through the appeals process, creating the potential for mistaken convictions and lengthening the amount of time a case remains bound up in litigation after an initial conviction.

The potential to eliminate both of those consequences led to broad bipartisan support for the measure. At a press conference with the bill’s authors in March, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the bill was a common sense proposal.

“There's no reason to test these items more than a decade after the crime was committed," Abbott said. “We shouldn't live with suspense. The family of the victim shouldn't have to through this time after time after time in order to get certainty.”

On the House floor, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, told legislators that the bill had been crafted at the request of and with the help of Abbott’s office.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.