FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM
This past year has been a tremendous success for the California Innocence Project on many fronts, from successes in the courtroom to increased media and public awareness of our cause and mission. 2014 also saw success in another arena: legislative reform.
The California Innocence Project helped draft and sponsored two pieces of key legislation addressing issues relating to wrongful convictions and the innocent. The first is a comprehensive bill which completely overhauled California’s post-conviction DNA testing statutes, leading to more efficient, more thorough, and more consistent DNA tests for those claiming actual innocence. As a result of this legislation, those who have been wrongfully convicted-and who believe DNA can show their innocence-will be able to get DNA testing more easily, avoiding the sometimes years-long battles to determine whether testing should be granted. Innocent individuals will also be able to have unknown DNA profiles-profiles matching neither the defendant nor the victim-to be entered into the national DNA database to see whether the profile is a “match” to the actual perpetrators.
The second law deals with false scientific testimony. In one study, invalidated or improper forensic science was a factor in more than half of the wrongful convictions later reversed through DNA testing. Although false scientific evidence is often the cause of wrongful convictions, California’s legal standards made it functionally impossible to challenge a conviction based on faulty or junk science. The reason: a 2012 court decision from the California Supreme Court determined that expert testimony (the testimony from scientists, doctors, and the like) is simply an opinion, and as such, can never be disproved or rejected as “false”-because it is merely the opinion of the expert, and so was never “true” in the first place. The bill remedied this backward-thinking decision, allowing for expert testimony to be challenged through later scientific or technological advancements.