C-SPAN3 will re-air the hearing today at 12:46 pm, (EST.)
Marcia Coyle covered the hearing for the National Law Journal reporting, "DOJ upbraided over stalled DNA program."
The Senate Judiciary Committee has challenged the U.S. Department of Justice on why it has not approved a single grant to states under the federal Kirk Bloodsworth DNA Post-Conviction Testing Program despite congressional funding of nearly $14 million in the last three years.
"Not a dime" has gone out to the states, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on Jan. 23, adding, "That is wrong. That is scandalous. That is irresponsible."
It is also intentional, charged the man for whom the program was named — Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, the first person sentenced to death to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
"The failure of this Department of Justice to grant states money under the Bloodsworth program is not accidental, nor is it the result of the states' failure to comply with the grant's provisions," said Bloodsworth in testimony submitted to the committee. "The DOJ has been against this program from the very beginning."
The DNA program was part of the Innocence Protection Act, a title within the Justice for All Act, signed into law in 2004. The program's purpose is to help defray the costs of DNA testing by awarding grants to states. The statute calls for the appropriation of $5 million annually through 2009.
Peter Marone, director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and chairman of the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, also criticized DOJ's management of the program.
DOJ's John Morgan, deputy director for science and technology at the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), told the judiciary committee that only three states had replied to the 2007 grant announcement, and none was in compliance with the legal requirements of the statute.
Under the statute, Morgan said, a state grantee is required to demonstrate that all jurisdictions within the state comply in practice with the requirements of the Kirk Bloodsworth provisions — that they had a DNA testing program in place and were preserving blood samples. Other grant programs, he said, require states to "certify" that they are fulfilling the law's requirements — a significantly lesser burden.
"It looks like the department has interpreted the statute so restrictively that even states like Arizona [which has a comprehensive program] are rejected," said Leahy, adding that DOJ rejections are sent without specific reasons.
The Washington Post carries an AP dispatch, "Feds Should Aid States With DNA Analysis."
Marvin Anderson and other men exonerated by DNA evidence said Wednesday they want Attorney General Michael Mukasey to start doling out federal money to help states analyze evidence that led to other convictions.
"It's fear," Anderson, of Hanover, Va., said of the bureaucratic resistance to clearing the way for such analyses. DNA evidence exonerated Anderson in 2001 of a rape conviction, after he was sentenced to 210 years in prison and served 15. "No one wants to admit a mistake has been made."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said he will grill the new attorney general next week on why some $14 million Congress has set aside for those analyses has not been spent.
Congress made the money available nearly four years ago as part of sweeping legislation named for Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person in the United States exonerated from a death row crime through DNA analysis as evidence.
"The bottom line: DOJ is denying people with claims of innocence with the chance to prove it," Bloodsworth, said in a statement submitted to the committee. Like Anderson, he attended the hearing.
Bloodsworth was released in 1993 after DNA evidence cleared his conviction in the murder of a 9-year-old girl.
Altogether, more than 120 people have been freed from death row, Leahy said -- a number that points to the need to tighten forensics practices and give innocent people the resources to prove it.
Leahy called Wednesday's session in part to respond to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine's report last week that more broadly found that lax oversight by the department caused charges of negligence and misconduct at some police forensic evidence labs to remain unchecked. Critics said the gaps raised questions about the accuracy of DNA evidence used to convict or clear suspects in criminal cases.
The audit found the Justice Department doesn't require allegations of wrongdoing at state and local police labs to be reported to independent investigators. Moreover, 34 percent of independent investigators charged with overseeing the labs lacked the authority, ability or resources to do so, according to the report.
Mr. Chairman, this is a particularly appropriate moment to be taking stock of Congress’ efforts to improve access to DNA testing and to increase oversight of forensic laboratories around the country. As a result of the Supreme Court’s consideration of challenges to the lethal injection method of execution, we are experiencing a national moratorium on executions of death row inmates. I am pleased that the Committee is taking this opportunity to consider these issues, which are even more poignant for those sitting on death row. Since the reinstatement of the modern death penalty, 15 death row inmates have been exonerated as a result of DNA testing, including one in Oklahoma just this past year.
But it is important to remember that flaws in the criminal justice system are not limited to forensics. Inadequate defense counsel, racial and geographic disparities, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and wrongful convictions based solely on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch or a single mistaken eyewitness identification all taint this country’s criminal justice system, and in particular its use of the death penalty. And all of these factors have led to the wrongful convictions of individuals later exonerated by DNA evidence.
Yesterday's post, with links to the prepared testimony of all the witnesses, is here.