On October 1, 2009, Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers, announced that the state had received a $1.2 million federal grant to start a program that would seek to identify wrongful convictions through DNA testing. Today, April 30, 2012, Robert Dewey, 51, is expected to be the first person to be exonerated through the testing. He has served more than 16 years for a crime he said he never committed. A Colorado imprisoned felon is a new suspect in the case. Read about this case, reported earlier on this blog by Mark Godsey with news link here, and also here.
This exoneration is just one of the beneficial results of the Colorado Justice Review Project. Working with the Denver District Attorney’s Office, the University of Denver College of Law, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, the federally funded project has enabled review of more than 5,000 past rapes, murders, and manslaughters to identify worthy cases for biological DNA testing of evidence. It was initially expected that about one percent of the cases would be selected for testing.
The Denver District Attorney’s office has reported that testing performed as a result of the project has thus far provided the basis for new trial, dismissal of charges, and reconsideration of charges in cases, in addition to today’s exoneration. The project has also informed a more efficient system for post-conviction case review, including locating and determining the condition of surviving evidence, and instituting a process for defendants to apply for the testing. It has been approved for a second round of federal funding.
Another innovative project, the Denver DNA Burglary Project, launched in 2005 with funding by the National Institute of Justice, has enabled Denver District Attorney Mitchell Morrissey to utilize DNA to identify burglars. Habitual burglars average more than 240 burglaries a year.
DNA testing is not as readily considered in burglaries as in sexual assault and rape/murders. However, The Denver DNA Burglary Project collects any biological evidence left at burglaries in an effort to indentify habitual burglars. Denver reportedly has more than 7,500 burglaries each year.
Items such as blood, cigarette butts, and hair have been collected at burglary crime scenes and then submitted to CODIS, the national DNA criminal database. The results as reported on the District Attorney’s website:
- More than 95 prolific burglars in the Denver area were caught and convicted
- The burglary rate in Denver dropped 26%
- The use of DNA evidence in burglary cases results in average 14-year prison term (compared to an average 1.4-year jail sentence for cases without DNA)
- The project showed that in property crimes, the presence of DNA can be paramount to successful prosecution. In cases that include DNA evidence, the prosecution filing rate is approximately 42%, which is more than eight times the rate of prosecution in cases without DNA evidence.
- Annual savings to citizens in Denver are estimated at more then $29 million