State receiving $1.2 million to launch DNA-based exoneration program

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Colorado has received nearly $1.2 million in federal grant money to start a program that will allow some people previously convicted of felonies to apply to have DNA testing performed in their case.

“DNA is one of law enforcement’s most effective tools for convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent,” said Attorney General John Suthers. “These grant funds will allow us to use DNA to ensure that no Coloradoan has been wrongly convicted.”

The Office of the Attorney General will administer the DNA project with the Denver District Attorney’s Office, which has been a leader among state prosecutors’ offices in the use of biological evidence.

The Office of the Attorney General intends to partner with several other organizations, including the University of Denver College of Law, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, to run the program and select cases for review.

“Prosecutors have an ethical duty to seek the truth and assure justice is done in every case,” said Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who has sought a DNA-based exoneration program for several years.  “Applying state-of-the art DNA technology to past criminal cases fulfills this responsibility.”

The program, “The Colorado Justice Review Project,” will:

  • Review up to 5,000 past rapes, murders and manslaughters to identify cases where post-conviction DNA testing could possibly exonerate an innocent inmate.
  • Test biological evidence in about 1 percent of the cases where DNA evidence could exonerate innocent inmates.
  • Request further judicial review in any case where the post-conviction DNA analysis proves a conviction is questionable.
  • Document cases that result in exoneration.
  • Close any cases where post-conviction DNA analysis indicates the conviction was accurate.

“After attending a Justice Department symposium in January about  post-conviction DNA casework in helping exonerate the innocent, I felt that this project was an important initiative for Colorado,” said Ron Sloan, director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. “We will provide technical investigative assistance and forensic expertise to the attorney general, Denver district attorney’s office and the state’s public defender.”

The Office of the Attorney General also plans to use the program’s findings to help law enforcement change its investigative techniques to reduce or eliminate future wrongful convictions. The project’s findings  could form the basis for future legislation aimed at improving Colorado DNA collection, retention and testing procedures.