Last month we reported on the prospect of many old cases being revived by newly discovered and tested. But it seems little is being done to notify or rectify any situations where the DNA points to a possible wrongful conviction. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, 29 felons have still not been notified that the potentially exonerating DNA exists in their case.
The Virginia Department of Forensic Science, through the testing of hundreds of DNA samples and the digging through over 500,000 old case files, discovered 76 cases in which newly found DNA excluded the felon convicted in the case. In other words, DNA at the scene was not theirs.
The impact of such a finding would, of course, depend on the facts of the case, and not always would it point to a wrongful conviction. The chance, however, exists, and if the chance is there, the convicted person has a right to know.
Yet, 29 people have not been notified of the evidence.
Those who are still incarcerated were easy to locate. Those who were long ago released, however, are posing problems for the state. One such person, listed as “missing” on the Department of Forensic Science’s list was found with a simple Internet search, living only 5 miles from the place where he was arrested for a 1978 rape.
Bennett S. Barbour served 4 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, and it was this study digging into old case files that ultimately exonerated him. But, the state new about this since June 2010, and he just found out last month.
“We haven’t exactly hear reports of any commonwealth’s attorneys making some announcement about what they claim to be doing in one of these cases,” says Brandon Garrett, a professor at U.Va.’s School of Law, who believes prosecutors aren’t doing enough to resolve any of these old cases.
In most of the cases, the local prosecutor is notified of the DNA evidence and the state then backs off, leaving any further action to the prosecutor. If that prosecutor doesn’t have the time, or doesn’t make the time to track down the felon, they never hear about the evidence or their potential exoneration.
Letters have been mailed out to all those for which an address could be found. But, according to Garrett, those letters are confusing and may even come across as threatening. They do not tell people that they have been excluded as suspects by DNA evidence, and instead merely say that DNA evidence has been located and tested, providing a telephone number to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project if further help is wanted.
Being accused of a crime you didn’t commit is frightening. Being convicted of that offense is a tragedy. It seems the state owes these people more than a half-assed attempt at locating and a form letter, but they don’t see it that way.
If you are accused of a crime you didn’t commit—whether it’s a drug charge or something far more serious—we may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case and the options that are available to you.