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CHEYENNE – A Wyoming House bill allowing a motion for a new trial for persons convicted of a felony based upon newly discovered evidence of actual innocence passed through the first House committee and, if passed as is, will negate Rule 33c of criminal procedure.
Rule 33c of Wyoming’s Rules of Criminal Procedure states: “A motion for a new trial based on the grounds of newly discovered evidence may be made only before or within two years after final judgment, but if an appeal is pending, the court may grant the motion only on remand of the case.”
The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice, its website reads.
Paul Cates, Communications Director for the Innocence Project, noted in an email that only two other states have similar time limits to Wyoming’s two-year limit.
“We know from the wrongful conviction cases that it often takes years for evidence to surface that can prove innocence,” Cates said. “HB144, which passed out of committee last week, would eliminate the 2-year limit.”
Arkansas and Idaho are the only other states that have absolute time limits on introducing new evidence of innocence, Cates said. In HB144, sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey, D., Albany, allows a person convicted of a felony the opportunity to file a motion in district court in spite of any law or rule of procedure that bars a motion for a new trial as untimely, such as Rule 33c in the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The bill also requires that the district attorney “respond to any motion within 120 days after receipt of the motion or within any extension of time the court allows for good cause shown.”
The bill continues with more stipulations on time, giving attorneys and the court system guidelines for timely new trials.
The two-year time limit stands as the largest problem in the eyes of the Innocence Project affiliates. Michelle Feldman, a state policy advocate with the Innocence Project, sees the time limit as a restriction on civil liberties.
“At least they can look into possible claims,” Feldman said about the possible passing of the bill. “It really does take years to reinvestigate a case and the (defendant) won’t be running against the clock. There’s not much (the courts) can do for people.”
Feldman continued, saying even if the judge thought they had a case with the new evidence, but the evidence revealed went past the two-year mark, their hands are tied.
“The time limit is especially problematic in cases where advances in science have undermined previous analysis of forensic evidence used to convict someone,” Cates wrote in a fact sheet. “Wyoming’s absolute two-year time limit for presenting newly discovered evidence of innocence is a barrier to overturning wrongful convictions based on faulty science.”
Several case examples explained on the Innocence Project’s website explains how new forensic evidence helped exonerate convicted felons.
“When it comes to forensic evidence, in the last few years, there’s been a lot of scientific advancements,” Feldman said. “A lot of (evidence) has been undermined by new advancements.”
HB144 passed through the House Minerals committee with a unanimous vote. The committee re-referred the bill to House Appropriations for further review before placing it on the House Floor for consideration from Committee of the Whole.