VT votes to allow convicts to request DNA

Based on work of Innocence Project, Vermont would preserve evidence and let prisoners request DNA testing to exonerate.

The Vermont Senate will consider allowing prisoners to request testing of DNA evidence, the Rutland Herald reports.

In a unanimous preliminary vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill, based in part on the work of the Innocence Project, based in New York City, on Wednesday. The committee is expected to give formal approval Friday, and the bill would then move on to the full Senate.

"I think this is one of the most important bills which will come out of the Judiciary Committee, or any committee, in this building this year," said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington. Having said that "I hope it is never used," Sears added.

The committee heard from Dennis Maher, who spent 19 years in prison after being convicted of rape. His conviction was overturned in 2003.

The bill would establish a system through which someone convicted of a crime could request DNA testing of evidence. The Department of Public Safety will create guidelines for the preservation of evidence. At the same time, a commission will study what procedures the state should establish over the long term for the preservation of such evidence.