SB 310 builds on Oregon’s DNA innocence law passed a few years ago allowing a person convicted of murder, a “person” felony or certain sex crimes to request testing of evidence for DNA that was obtained in the original criminal investigation. ACLU worked to pass what was a temporary law when it was first introduced in 2001 and led the effort in 2007 to make it a permanent part of Oregon law. That law establishes a procedure to request testing but does not address the question of retaining evidence so that it can be tested years later.
Currently, local law enforcement agencies across the state retain evidence during the pendency of the trial and appeal process, which can take a number of years. However, there is no uniform policy or practice regarding the retention of evidence that contains biological material after that time. SB 310 sets that effort in motion.
We know from across the country that DNA has not only been used to convict the guilty, but also to exonerate the innocent, sometimes decades after conviction and after many years of incarceration. Establishing innocence years after conviction requires preservation of the evidence containing biological material. The technology and science around DNA continues to advance. Evidence that contains DNA but cannot be tested today using current technologies may very well provide reliable results years from now. Most jurisdictions are already preserving evidence that might be used to solve cold cases, but we want to be sure they also retain evidence that may prove a convicted person’s innocence.
SB 310, in its original form, would have enacted a statewide retention requirement with specific limitations and a process for eventual destruction. However, behind the scenes, law enforcement representatives began to work in opposition despite never testifying on the bill when it had a public hearing. Facing the possibility that the legislation would not pass because of this opposition, we agreed to amend the bill. SB 310 now requires that biological evidence in murder and sex crime cases be retained until January 2012. In the interim, a work group will be formed to prepare legislation to establish uniform policies and practices statewide.
The new law starts the process of modernizing biological evidence preservation practices in order to ensure that powerful DNA evidence will be available to exonerate innocent people as well as to convict the guilty.
WIN: PASSED INTO LAW