By unanimous vote today, the Kentucky House voted for final passage of a bill to improve the state’s post-conviction DNA testing law. The legislation, which also passed unanimously through the Senate last week, will soon make its way to Governor Steve Beshear’s desk.
Under Kentucky’s current law, only those serving time on death row have a statutory right to access post-conviction DNA testing. Of the 49 states with post-conviction DNA testing laws, only Kentucky and Alabama restrict access in this way. With the Governor’s signature, HB 41 will allow most Kentuckians convicted of violent crimes access to DNA testing if such testing can provide probative evidence of innocence.
HB 41 was sponsored by Representative Johnny Bell (D-Glasgow), who has long advocated for reform of Kentucky’s DNA testing laws. Though Representative Bell introduced similar pieces of legislation during previous sessions, the bills ultimately never progressed. This year’s efforts gained momentum with the support of Senator John Schickel (R-Union), who championed a similar post-conviction DNA testing bill (SB 23) in the Senate.
Prior to the bill’s passage, wrongfully convicted Kentuckians in non-capital cases were forced to rely on judges and prosecutors to grant access to DNA testing, meaning testing was often granted in an inconsistent manner. Although HB 41 is a major improvement over current law, the final bill was amended to exclude those who pled guilty from accessing testing. In 28 of the 303 DNA exoneration cases, an innocent defendant pled guilty.