The Oklahoma Legislature has passed many laws through the years designed to ensure that criminals get locked up for a long time. Now it can help ensure that justice really has been served in the most serious cases.
A bill on its way to the Senate floor would allow those who believe they were wrongfully convicted of a violent crime to petition the sentencing court for DNA testing. The proposed law would apply to people serving sentences of 25 years or more.
The state would have two months to respond to the inmate's request, with the sentencing court then holding a hearing to determine whether to order DNA testing. Specific criteria would have to be met before the court would order DNA testing, ensuring that courts aren't flooded with requests. For example, requests can't be made in order to unreasonably delay the carrying out of the sentence.
House Bill 1068 is sponsored by Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, and Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater. Halligan noted that Oklahoma is the only state that doesn't have such a law on the books. “Although our criminal justice system does its very best and I am very supportive, any system occasionally makes mistakes,” he said.
In the past two decades, Oklahoma has had about a dozen inmates freed because of forensic DNA testing. That's hardly a sign of systemwide problems, but one wrongful conviction for such serious crimes is one too many.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which would be involved in testing, backs HB 1068 as does a panel of attorneys headed by former Attorney General Drew Edmondson that studied wrongful convictions. Edmondson said that even if the percentage of wrongful convictions in Oklahoma is minuscule, “we should still do everything we can to see that it does not happen.”
He's right. The Legislature should send this bill to the governor for her signature.