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February 20, 2013

House approves postconviction DNA bill; legislation now moves to Senate

STILLWATER, Okla. — Legislation approved unanimously by the Oklahoma House of Representatives Tuesday would allow an individual who is convicted of a crime to file a motion to request forensic DNA testing of any biological material associated with the crime.

“Oklahoma is currently the only state that does not have a postconviction DNA process in place,” said State Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, the bill’s author.

“This legislation creates that process and thus makes it even more difficult for mistakes to fall through the cracks.”

House Bill 1068 sets up a criteria for who would be eligible and provides for a hearing to determine if testing should occur.

The legislation requires the court to hold a hearing if the DNA testing results are favorable to the offender.

The bill will now proceed to the Senate to await a committee hearing.

The Postconviction DNA Act allows persons incarcerated, civilly committed, on parole or probation, subject to sex offender registration or in various other situations of guilt to request untested evidence be subjected to DNA testing or have previously tested evidence subjected to newer testing techniques.

Denney said she was very excited about the bill which gives hope to inmates who have been wrongfully convicted.

“If we have people sitting in our state prisons who actually are innocent, we want to move as fast as we can to exonerate them,” Denney said.

Brook Arbeitman, spokeswoman for the year-old Oklahoma Innocence Project, said the organization typically receives requests for help almost on a daily basis.

She said on average it takes six years to work through the court system and get an innocent person exonerated.

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