A recently published article in the Wall Street Journal talks about a new law that was put into effect on September 1, 2009 in Texas. This new law allows prosecutors and parole boards, for the first time in the history of this country, to see DNA evidence that links a suspect to an old sexual assault, even though the statute of limitations has expired on the case and the suspect was never tried. Previously, there would be no record linking the suspect to the old crime.
This new law has its supporter, who are optimistic that suspects in those old cases, of which the statute of limitations has run, will face more vigorous prosecutions and sterner parole boards should they find themselves in trouble with the law again.
On the other hand, the newly enacted law has its opponents, who believe that the new law robs alleged suspects of their due-process rights. From the article:
This article tracks a woman named Desirée Wood, who was raped more than twenty years ago, whose attacker was never caught and obviously never sentenced for the crime that he committed. DNA evidence was collected after her rape twenty years ago, and was processed in 2008, as part of the Dallas Police Department Sexual Assault Cold Case Program, which focuses on cases that are too old to prosecute.
The results of the DNA evidence was entered into a national crime database and matched the profile of a Louisiana man who has been in and out of prison for burglary and other small offenses. Under the new law, the DNA results will be attached to his criminal file maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Even though this Louisiana man will never be charged with the rape of Ms. Woods, some form of justice may be done. If this man should happen to find himself in trouble with the law in the future, and happens to be released on parole, this attachment to his file might impact his terms of parole, i.e. strengthening the terms by the Parole Board.
One opponent of the law, The ACLU, is concerned that it could punish suspects without the benefit of due process. After objections from the ACLU, the proposed law was revised to allow only law-enforcement agencies to access DNA information linking someone to an old sexual assault. The law also allows suspects to petition for removal of the information from their files if they believe it has been wrongly included. The ACLU of Texas does not support the legislation, however, it withdrew its formal opposition to the bill after the revision was made to limit the use of the evidence to old sexual assault cases.
In my opinion, I seem to be torn between the two proposed views of this law. On one hand, I feel as if this law allows a sense of justice to be served. Additionally, it also provides a sense of closure for the victims involved.
On the other hand, I feel as if this law does rob alleged suspects of the constitutionally protected right of due process. These alleged suspects do not have a means of defending themselves when there is a match in the computer database. The only thing that the law does allow is for suspects to petition for removal of the information from their files if they believe it has been wrongly included, but that does not sound like due-process to me. Additionally, there are cases where the opinions of the alleged suspect and the alleged victim are contradicting and even though there was DNA to put the alleged suspect at the scene with the alleged victim, what if it was not rape, the alleged suspect would still be tagged a rapist.
I believe that this new law is a step in the right direction, but it definitely needs to be refined to provide the alleged suspect with due-process of the law, which each and everyone of us would want and deserve.