New Jersey Criminal DNA Testing Expands

In new legislation passed earlier last month, New Jersey will remove some of the stipulations on its DNA testing requirements for criminal defendants. Previous legislation had made it difficult for those not incarcerated to be exonerated through DNA testing for crimes they did not commit. New Jersey had been one of the strictest states with this incarceration requirement, one of only fourteen nationwide.

The chief sponsor of the bill was Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, a democrat from Bergen County. He stated that the current DNA testing that the state has available had done a great amount of good for those who had been wrongly imprisoned for many years, but that testing was not made available for anyone who was out on parole or probation, and similarly innocent of the crimes for which they had been convicted.

The bill was sponsored in the senate by Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Bergen county, who commented that the legislation will not only work to exonerate those who had been incorrectly convicted of crimes but also provide valuable leads towards correctly identifying the actual perpetrators. It was passed in June by a vote of 71-1 in the Assembly, and then by a 36-2 vote in the Senate later that month.

There are some other changes to the law that go along with opening up the DNA testing process. Among those, it makes it more possible for a judge to order DNA testing to be submitted by law enforcement officials regarding the crime scene to the federal Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. This system makes it possible to track the DNA against those of someone already in the system.

Additionally, private laboratories can now conduct DNA tests for the defendants, rather than only in the public state or local laboratories. Defendants will, however, be responsible for proving that the laboratory they choose lives up to state standards. The bill will also amend the 1994 DNA Database and Databank Act and allow defendants access to crime scene DNA records.

A major proponent of the bill came from the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that fights wrongful convictions using DNA evidence. They have a waiting list of over 10 years for defendants asking for their cases to be reviewed and urged the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. In an impassioned speech by senior staff attorney Vanessa Potkin, the committee was urged to consider the many implications of wrongfully served time. She especially focused on the benefit that this legislation would have on those wrongfully convicted of sex crimes that would be placed on the sex offender registry without exoneration once their sentence ended.

If you are facing a criminal charge and are seeking DNA-based evidence as part of your defense, look no further than the experienced attorneys at Zapicchi & Liller, LLP to back up your case throughout the legal process. For a free phone consultation, contact us today at 609-291-9500 to learn more about our extensive services for all of our valued clients.