Representatives unanimously passed legislation Tuesday to give convicted felons greater opportunities to review possibly exonerating or mitigating evidence, an effort aimed at reducing the amount of people falsely convicted.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Reps. Jamie Grant and James Bush III‘s bill (HB 7077) would expand the type of forensic analyses available and reduce the standards for courts to order forensic analyses. Courts could order a private lab to perform a forensic analysis. The accused would pay for that analysis unless the results came out in his or her favor.
Bush, a Miami Democrat, noted that the Legislature’s budget experts could not determine how much his and Grant’s proposal would cost the state and the Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
“Simply said, there’re too many people that are being locked up for crimes they did not commit,” he said.
If an analysis returns a DNA profile, FDLE would search the statewide DNA database and request a search in the national index, helping the convicted to possibly identify an alternative suspect. Additionally, courts could order a government entity to search for reportedly lost or destroyed physical evidence and return a report.
Forensic analyses could apply scientific or forensic techniques to biological evidence, even beyond DNA testing.
Earlier Tuesday, the House approved compensation for Clifford Williams, who served 43 years in prison for a wrongful conviction. Bush said he didn’t realize the final passage of the forensic analysis bill would fall on the same day as that for Williams’ compensation (SB 18), calling it God’s timing.
“I’ve lived long enough to know that everything operates under the rhythm of God’s timing, and we are in God’s timing of me doing this today not knowing that I’d be standing here on this floor presenting this on this day,” Bush said.
Calling it a historic moment, he thanked Grant, a Tampa Republican, for moving criminal justice reform in Florida in the right direction.
“I know how passionate you are, because I talk with you about how you did not want not one person in the state of Florida to serve not one second, one minute, one hour, one week, one day, one month, one year in any of our correctional institutions, prison institutions, throughout the state of Florida, and I commend you for that,” Bush said.