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Senate Approves Rules on DNA Testing

By Carlos Campos, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 03/29/03

Legislation making it easier for people wrongly convicted of violent crimes to prove their innocence through DNA testing unanimously passed the state Senate on Friday.

"This makes sure the right people are in jail and makes sure no innocent person will ever suffer the state's most severe punishment," said Kristi Huller, a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who pushed the bill. "We think this will enhance public confidence that the judicial system is just."

The state has no protocol for granting post-conviction DNA testing. The bill, which now goes to the House, would give judges guidelines for deciding whether to allow a new trial based on DNA evidence.

Under the measure, a person convicted of one of Georgia's "seven deadly sins" -- including murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery -- would be able to petition for a new trial after four conditions are met: if the identity of the defendant was an issue at trial, if reliable results can be extracted from existing evidence, if it is reasonable to believe results of DNA testing would have affected the trial's outcome and if the evidence was not previously tested.

Judges would determine whether the test's cost would be borne by the defendant or by local governments.

Also, defendants are generally given only one opportunity to ask for a new trial, and they must do it within 30 days of their conviction. Under the bill, that time limit would be waived if DNA evidence came into play.

There are about 13,000 people in the Georgia prison system convicted of one of seven violent crimes.

DNA testing, which uses the "genetic fingerprint" that uniquely identifies a person, has gained ground as evidence in courtrooms only over the past decade.

"This is a bill that allows the law to catch up with technology," said Sen. David Adelman (D-Decatur), who sponsored the bill on Taylor's behalf.