Despite laws enabling inmates to seek DNA testing in many states, performing a test is often impossible years after a conviction because the evidence has been lost, destroyed or contaminated due to improper storage.
The Innocence Project recommends that all physical evidence in all criminal cases be properly maintained as long as the defendant is incarcerated, under supervision or in civil litigation. Laws and policies on proper evidence preservation help police and prosecutors solve cold cases, and they give inmates a chance – often the only real chance – to prove their innocence.
Solving cold cases
There are thousands of unsolved cases in the United States, and many of these involve physical or biological evidence that could one day be matched to a perpetrator. DNA evidence has helped police solve hundreds of cold cases in recent years, and will continue to do so as law enforcement agencies improve the way they store and catalogue evidence.
An innocent inmate’s last hope
In some cases, evidence has been lost or destroyed prior to trial. Whenever a case goes to trial without sufficient evidence, the chances are greatly increased that an innocent person will be convicted or that a guilty person will be acquitted. When evidence is destroyed, justice is not served.
Criminal appeals after a conviction are a difficult road, even for the innocent. The resources of the justice system are stacked against the inmate, and once a conviction is secured there is no longer a presumption of innocence. In cases with DNA evidence, this process can take years and can hit roadblocks at any stage. Appeals are even more difficult in cases without any evidence to test because they become a web of witness statements and costly investigations.