Colorado updated its post-conviction DNA testing law for the first time since it was established in 2003, with the signage of House Bill 1034 on Friday.
Under the current law, only three people in Colorado have been exonerated of crimes for DNA-related reasons in the last two decades. Beginning on Oct. 1, 2023, the bill will increase eligibility for people convicted of felonies to receive DNA testing, allowing recourse for those who may have been falsely convicted.
Gov. Jared Polis signed the bipartisan-sponsored bill into law following unanimous approval from the state Senate and House last month.
"We want to make sure we get the right person responsible for a crime," Polis said. "This bill will go a long way towards making Colorado safer."
Current law only allows people who are actively incarcerated to receive DNA testing, but the bill will open it up to people on felony parole, registered sex offenders, people who have completed their sentences, and people who were found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The bill will also permit courts to order DNA testing if there is a reasonable probability that the person would not have been convicted if DNA testing produced a favorable result at trial.
"We heard incredible testimony in committee about folks being wrongfully convicted and not able to access testing, which is what this bill does," said bill sponsor Rep. Lindsey Daugherty, D-Arvada. "I'm incredibly proud to have worked on this bill."
Robert “Rider” Dewey is one of the three Coloradans exonerated for DNA-related reasons under the current law.
Dewey spent nearly 18 years in prison after being sentenced to life for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old Palisade woman in 1994. While testifying in support of the new bill, Dewey said he repeatedly requested DNA testing while in prison but was denied for years until connecting with the Innocence Project in 2007. Even then, the testing wasn’t completed until 2010 and the conviction wasn’t overturned until 2012.
Dewey said he "can’t stress" the importance of DNA testing enough.
“While I was in there, my son died. My only child," Dewey said in his testimony. "I’ve got titanium from my first vertebrate to my pelvis now because of all the stomping I got. ... They could have saved me a lot of headaches.”
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