Post Conviction DNA Testing – How It Works

By May 9, 2011DNA

Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys DNA testingWhat follows is an excerpt from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ recent published decision in Ex Parte Gutierrez regarding the propriety of post-conviction DNA testing. It does not reflect new law on the subject, but is helpful as a refresher.  These are the statutory hurdles a person must jump in order to have the original evidence tested for DNA in hopes of proving his/her innocence:

There is no free-standing due-process right to DNA testing, and the task of fashioning rules to “harness DNA’s power to prove innocence without unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal justice” belongs “primarily to the legislature.”  In Texas, Chapter 64 of the Code of Criminal Procedure requires the judge of the convicting court to order DNA testing when requested by a convicted person if it finds all of the following:

(1) evidence exists that by its nature permits DNA testing;

(2) the evidence was either:

(a) justifiably not previously subjected to DNA testing [because DNA testing i) was not available, or ii) was incapable of providing probative results, or iii) did not occur “through no fault of the convicted person, for reasons that are of such a nature that the interests of justice require DNA testing”]; or

(b) subjected to previous DNA testing by techniques now superseded by more accurate techniques;

(3) that evidence is in a condition making DNA testing possible;

(4) the chain of custody of the evidence is sufficient to establish that it has not been substituted, tampered with, replaced, or altered in any material respect;

(5) identity was or is an issue in the underlying criminal case;

(6) the convicted person has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the person would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing; and

(7) the convicted person has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the request for DNA testing is not made to unreasonably delay the execution of sentence or administration of justice.

An indigent convicted person intending to file a motion for post-conviction DNA testing now has a limited right to appointed counsel. That entitlement used to be absolute, but it is now conditioned on the trial judge’s finding “that reasonable grounds exist for the filing of a motion.” If all of the prerequisites set out above are met, the convicting court must order testing. Then, after “examining the results of testing under Article 64.03, the convicting court must hold a hearing and make a finding as to whether, had the results been available during the trial of the offense, it is reasonably probable that the person would not have been convicted.” Exculpatory DNA testing results do not, by themselves, result in relief from a conviction or sentence. Chapter 64 is simply a procedural vehicle for obtaining certain evidence “which might then be used in a state or federal habeas proceeding.”