HD62 - Admissibility, Reliability and Interpretation of DNA Evidence

Executive Summary:
The Crime Commission invited defense attorneys, prosecutors and DNA experts to participate in the issue formulation and information gathering phases of this study. Interested parties made presentations at several Law Enforcement Subcommittee meetings and provided invaluable assistance to Commission Staff throughout the course of the study. The Commission carefully considered issues relating to access by the defense to laboratory proficiency test results; court-appointed experts for indigent defendants; laboratory standards and accreditation; training of law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys and the DNA case backlog. The Commission made the following legislative recommendations with respect to issues concerning challenges to the reliability of DNA evidence; independent re-testing of evidence by the defense; court-appointed attorney compensation and destruction of biological evidence:

• Amend Code of Virginia § 19.2-270.5 to clarify that challenges to the accuracy and reliability of the procedures employed in the collection and analysis of a particular DNA sample are permissible, whereas challenges to the basic scientific principles underlying DNA testing are precluded.

• Amend Code of Virginia § 19.2-163 to provide that, in cases involving higher felonies, the Circuit Court, upon a finding of good cause, can override the statutory cap on court-appointed counsel compensation.

• Amend Code of Virginia § 19.2-270.4 to except biological evidence from destruction to ensure that potentially valuable exculpatory evidence is not prematurely destroyed.

• Amend Code of Virginia § 9-196.13 to provide that, whenever feasible, evidentiary samples delivered to the Division of Forensic Science shall be divided prior to DNA analysis and secured for future independent retesting by the defense.