03.21.12

Leahy Chairs Hearing On Post-Conviction DNA Testing, Justice For All Act

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, March 21, 2012) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday chaired a hearing focused on components of the landmark Justice for All Act, including how best to ensure the integrity of the nation’s justice system.  Leahy has been a longtime proponent of legislative efforts to ensure that the guilty are punished and the innocent are exonerated.

Leahy was a key sponsor of the original Justice for All Act, and has authored legislation this Congress to reauthorize the law.  The Justice for All Act was enacted in 2004, and made modest but rare reforms to the criminal justice system, including the way in which the death penalty is used. 

“The criminal justice system only works when all relevant evidence is collected, retained and tested, and appropriately shared with defense counsel,” said Leahy.  “Today, we should rededicate ourselves to ensuring that we have a criminal justice system where the innocent remain free, the guilty parties are punished, and all sides have the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to advance the cause of justice.”

Included in the historic law was the Leahy-authored Innocence Protection Act (IPA).  Leahy championed the IPA for more than four years before it was incorporated in the 2004 Justice for All Act.  Among other provisions, the IPA included the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program.  The program was named for Kirk Bloodsworth, who was a young man just out of the Marines when he was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death for a crime that he did not commit.  He was the first of many people in the United States to be exonerated for a capital crime through the use of DNA evidence.  Bloodsworth was in attendance at Wednesday’s hearing.

Testifying at Wednesday’s hearing was Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in prison for a series of rapes he did not commit.  With the support of the Virginia Attorney General, he was finally exonerated after DNA testing that was funded by the Bloodsworth program implicated someone else.  He was released from prison one year ago.

Leahy announced Wednesday that he intends to schedule Committee consideration of the reauthorization of the Justice for All Act.

As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy, a former prosecutor, has made criminal justice issues a focal point of the Committee’s agenda, and has held a number of hearings in recent years examining how to best ensure the effective use of DNA evidence in prosecuting crime, particularly through the Debbie Smith Act and the Innocence Protection Act

Wednesday’s hearing can be viewed online through the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.

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