On September 1, a new law takes effect in the state of Texas. Senate Bill 1292, which was written by Senator Rodney Ellis, requires DNA analysis of all biological evidence in death penalty cases. The bill was passed by Texas lawmakers with the aim of preventing wrongful convictions.
Senator Ellis said, “If you’re going to ask for the death penalty you ought to be confident that you have the right person.”
Attorney General Greg Abbott stated Senate Bill 1292 would save the state of Texas years of appeals and also said, “There’s no reason to test these items more than a decade after the crime was committed.”
Abbott then related the story of Hank Skinner an inmate on death row who began asking for DNA testing in 2000. Skinner’s requests were never granted. One hour before he was to be executed in 2010, the Supreme Court delayed his punishment. DNA testing was approved in 2012 for Skinner, but it still has not been completed.
Currently in some parts of Texas, it can take six months or longer to receive DNA test results from the Department of Public Safety. Polk County District Attorney William Lee Hon said that although he and other prosecutors do agree that DNA testing to verify the identity of a killer is worth the time and expense, they also believe the wait for testing results will take even longer because they do not feel DPS has the resources to comply with the new legislation.
Kathryn Kase, the director of the Texas Defender Service, an agency that represents death row inmates in the state of Texas, said the law will help prevent investigators from concentrating their efforts on just one suspect, which can lead to the ignoring of evidence that could implicate other suspects.
Bobby D. Mims, president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, agreed the testing will take time and thus delay court trials; however, he said DNA testing would also improve the system. “A rush to judgment is never good and beneficial to the justice system,” said Mims.
In Texas alone, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, DNA test results have led to fifty-four exonerations, including two death row inmates.