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Tennessee General Law Blog

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Should DNA Testing be Allowed Post-Conviction?

If new evidence would have changed a criminal trial’s outcome, it may be grounds for successful appeal. The same thing is true of juror misconduct and other issues.

The curious case of Sedley Allen has some people asking about the place of DNA tests in closed criminal cases.

In 2006, Sedley was executed for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old Marine officer, whose body was found near a base. Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project recently filed a petition on behalf of Allen’s daughter, April, seeking to reverse that conviction. Scheck pointed to DNA evidence which he says exonerates Sedley. He wants officials to test seventeen items from the crime scene, including stains on the victim’s clothes and a pair of underwear which allegedly belonged to the assailant. “Common sense” dictates that if Sedley were alive today, he would be entitled to testing, Scheck told Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan. Three death row exonerees – Kirk Bloodsworth, Sabrina Butler and Ray Krone – were all present in the courtroom to express moral support.

In response, the state argued that a previous court had already denied a similar request. Furthermore, the testing law at issue gives a right of action to defendants, but not to their relatives.

What do DNA Tests Prove?

Much of the CSI-type evidence used in court, like clothing fibers and tire tracks, is not very reliable. This “proof” usually cannot establish facts beyond a reasonable doubt.

DNA evidence is different. It is scientifically reliable, and the tests are relatively inexpensive. In terms of proof, DNA strands usually do more than prove presence or absence at a certain place and a certain time. Frequently, however, that is the only real issue in a case.

Grounds for Criminal Appeal

New evidence in general, and DNA evidence in particular, is usually effective grounds for a criminal appeal. The defendant must show that the evidence was not available at the time of trial and that the new proof would change the trial’s outcome.

There are other grounds for criminal appeal, as well. Most of them are procedural instead of substantive. Common grounds for appeal include:

Whatever grounds for appeal the defendant brings, the defendant must show more than a mistake. The defendant must also show that the mistake materially affected the outcome of the trial. If a higher court reverses a criminal conviction, sometimes the defendant goes free, and sometimes the defendant must stand trial again.

Reach Out to Aggressive Attorneys

New evidence often surfaces much later which affects a trial’s outcome. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Manchester, contact Burch, Morrison, & Stewart. Convenient payment plans are available.

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