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Lack of Defense Access to CODIS for DNA Testing a 'Huge Problem'

January 4, 2013 10:54:47 am

A West Virginia wrongful conviction case is being cited as proof that laws are needed to remove DNA databases from the exclusive grip of prosecutors and law enforcement to make them available to defense lawyers, says the News York Times. The case involves Joseph A. Buffey, who in 2002, at age 19, was accused of robbing and raping an elderly woman. He confessed and was sentenced to 70 years in prison but has maintained he gave a coerced false confession. After 18 months of litigation by Buffey's attorneys, DNA tests have now established that the rapist was another imprisoned man with a history of assaulting women.

“There is incredible exculpatory power in the databases that the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on over the years,” said Nina Morrison, a senior lawyer in the case. “But law enforcement runs the databases, and even when you go to court to force their hand, they throw up roadblocks. And judges say they don’t have the power to force them.” Steven Benjamin, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called access to DNA databases "a national problem, a huge and recurring one.” Almost every state has a law permitting some post-conviction DNA testing, but only nine — Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas — have laws granting defendants access to the DNA databases, known as the Combined DNA Index System.

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