New Illinois Law Means Inmates Can Challenge Conviction with DNA Testing

overturned convictions, Illinois criminal defense attorney, false accusation, murder convictions, Legislation expanding Illinois’ convicts’ right to challenge convictions based on DNA testing has moved forward in the state this year. The statute that passed through the Illinois State Senate and House in the spring has just been signed by Governor Quinn.

The move by the state is part of a national trend in the last several years as the technology associated with DNA testing has improved, combined with a growing awareness in the legal community that the conviction of innocents is a problem that cannot be ignored by the American justice system. Additional technical assistance is available to both accused individuals and those who represent them via the National Institute of Justice.

Innocent People Often Plead Guilty to Avoid Harsher Sentences

The new Illinois statute acknowledges that innocent defendants sometimes plead guilty to lesser crimes that lead to incarceration in order to avoid the possibility of harsher sentencing. The new state law gives the right to use this scientific technique to prove innocence, only if the evidence was not available at trial.

The law will be primarily used in rape and murder cases, and is not expected to open a floodgate of appeals. That said, the statute removes Illinois from the remaining handful of states that currently block such testing following a guilty plea.

Statistics collected by the National Registry of Exonerations show that just over 10 percent of people in Cook County plead guilty before having their convictions overturned. In these cases, just under five percent are cleared by DNA evidence.

Sponsors of the bill in the Illinois Senate do not expect many inmates to meet the requirements of the new law, unless there is a “reasonable possibility” that DNA testing would have led to acquittal at trial. Nevertheless, sentiment among lawmakers has been that this kind of reform is important to protect the rights of those unjustly accused.

Just How Many Innocent People Are Incarcerated?

According to the Innocence Project, a non profit advocacy group that lobbies for DNA reform, there have been 317 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States. Eighteen people are known to have been sentenced to death before DNA evidence proved their innocence. The average sentence served by those later exonerated by such tests has been 13 ½ years.

In addition, about 70 percent of those exonerated by DNA testing are people of color, and in almost half of such cases, DNA testing has also led to identification of the actual perpetrator.

Do You Need Professional Legal Help?

If you or someone you know is in need of post-conviction representation to overturn a criminal conviction, you will need the advice and expertise of an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today.

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