Monday, October 22, 2007

Lawmakers urged to require preservation of DNA evidence

October 18, 2007

By Chris Barge, Rocky Mountain News

LAKEWOOD - Colorado lawmakers should require police to preserve DNA evidence, a policy analyst trying to free wrongfully convicted people told a governor's task force Wednesday.

Rebecca Brown, an analyst with the New York-based Innocence Project, also said the state should consider building regional evidence storage facilities.

Brown's comments kicked off the task force's second meeting since being formed by Gov. Bill Ritter last month to devise a modern, uniform process for dealing with DNA evidence in the state.

Ritter formed the group to address the fact that Colorado has no uniform guidelines for preserving evidence in criminal cases. It is up to individual police and sheriff's departments to set rules for keeping everything from blood to bullets. Task force members fear that has set the stage for too broad a difference in evidence-collecting procedures across the street.

The 21-member panel decided Wednesday to form three subcommittees to help them analyze technical standards and current procedures; goals and needs; and funding options.

"There's some real work to do and I think this is the way to do it," Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates said.

Legislators, police, defense attorneys and prosecutors on the panel acknowledged that one of their biggest challenges will be finding a way to pay for whatever they recommend. The state's law enforcement agencies are in no mood for an unfunded mandate, they said.

"We understand that there is a price tag with this, but we really do believe this can be cost-effective," Brown said.

Centralizing evidence storage will cut court costs and time wasted searching in vain for old evidence, Brown said. Most importantly, she added, it will lead to more successful prosecutions and fewer wrongful convictions.

"I don't think the value of that can really even be measured," she said.

The subcommittees will meet this month and report back to the larger task force at its next scheduled meeting, Oct. 31.

The task force also will be briefed then on the results from an evidence-preservation survey sent to the state's 170 police chiefs and 64 sheriffs.

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