Deadline for requesting DNA testing eliminated

Published June 24, 2006

Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill into law Friday that protects inmates' access to DNA testing, but he expressed concern about its effect on victims and an "already overburdened criminal justice system."

"I strongly support efforts which exonerate truly innocent persons who have been wrongfully convicted," Bush wrote. "I have concerns, however, about the unintended impact of this bill and its effect on the courts."

Advocates of the legislation called the concerns misguided and heralded the passage. "It's a great day for justice in the state of Florida," said Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami.

Florida's current law was to expire July 1 and had been extended by Bush. The new law removes any deadline and affords DNA testing to people who plead guilty prior to July 1, not just those convicted by jury. Anyone who pleads after the date will have to be informed during a conference with a judge and lawyers that they are waiving future testing, in most cases, of DNA evidence.

Bush was concerned that that may have a chilling effect on defendants who wish to enter pleas at arraignment, by requiring discovery before a plea can be accepted.

He also worried about hurting victims' rights to "finality" in plea agreements. Replied Villalobos, "I would think a victim would want the person who committed the crime in prison. If they have the wrong person, that's not final, is it?"

Further, Bush said some prosecutors worry the bill could increase frivolous postconviction motions filed on grounds of ineffective counsel.

He urged the state Supreme Court and lawyers to work on solutions to the issues through procedural rules.

Despite the concern, Jenny Greenberg, director of the Florida Innocence Initiative, which worked to free a wrongfully convicted St. Petersburg man, Alan Crotzer, credited Bush for signing the bill. "It's a massive improvement in the criminal justice system in Florida," she said.