Today, the Pennsylvania Senate concurred in House amendments to two bills sponsored by State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R, 12) making landmark improvements to Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act and DNA testing laws to ensure conviction integrity and bring justice to more Pennsylvanians.
SB 915 extends the time period for the filing of a post-conviction relief petition from 60 days to one year when new evidence is discovered. The discovery of new evidence is a significant development in any criminal case. Experience has proved that 60 days is simply not enough time to assemble the materials for a court filing, especially for incarcerated individuals. The legislation also ensures fairness to victims during any post-conviction investigation. The bill also requires persons acting on behalf of the defendant to identify themselves and clarify their relationship to the defendant when contacting the victim.
SB 916 allows expanded post-conviction DNA testing to prove innocence when new technology would yield more accurate and probative results than technology available at the time of trial. The bill establishes a DNA database within the State Police to enhance the ability of law enforcement to detect repeat offenders, exclude innocent suspects, and deter criminal behavior in the first place. This bill recognizes that DNA testing and advances in technology play an increasingly vital role in the criminal justice system.
“These bills are long overdue, and will help ensure that justice is being done in Pennsylvania,” said Senator Greenleaf. “Even if one person has been wrongly convicted, it is a massive failure of our justice system and the ideals that are most important to us as Americans. Both of these bills address conviction integrity in providing a realistic time frame for someone to file for a re-trial due to the discovery of new evidence, and greatly expands DNA testing—even for those who have plead guilty to a crime. In many cases, a person was coerced into a false confession that resulted in not only a wrongful conviction, but also denied them justice through DNA testing.”
To date, 333 wrongfully convicted Americans have been proven innocent by DNA testing, including 12 Pennsylvanians. The real perpetrators were identified in 163 DNA-based exoneration cases. These offenders went on to be convicted of 145 additional crimes, including 77 rapes and 34 murders.
The bills now await the Governor’s signature.