SALT LAKE CITY — Legislators on Tuesday passed a bill modifying post-conviction DNA testing procedures to help wrongfully convicted individuals prove their innocence.
SB76 passed the House and the Senate unanimously. It now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his consideration.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, modifies requirements to obtain post-conviction DNA testing, provided that the new evidence would indicate that the petitioner would not be convicted or would have a lesser sentence.
The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said he met and had dinner with James Tillman, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit, and spent time in prison with the actual rapist who committed the crime.
Thanks to post-conviction DNA testing, Tillman was eventually exonerated.
"This bill is a very important step in helping an individual who's been wrongfully convicted prove that they have been wrongfully convicted," Eliason said.
Under current Utah law, a court can only order DNA testing if the defendant shows that evidence will establish factual innocence.
"This high standard is a Catch-22 that requires a person to prove his or her innocence before the testing is even conducted," Eliason said. "This is a step in the right direction toward helping people who have been wrongfully convicted. But just as important … (the bill) can help get a rapist or a murderer behind bars where they belong."