SHERIDAN — Gov. Matt Mead signed the post-conviction factual innocence bill into law, providing the wrongfully convicted with another possible way to prove their innocence. House Bill 26 was introduced by the Wyoming Joint Judiciary Committee and has been championed for several years by Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, and the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, which is dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.
Under the existing law, there is no time limit for a person to introduce new DNA evidence of innocence, but instead a two-year deadline after conviction to present new non-DNA evidence. The new law removes the time limit and clarifies that new non-DNA evidence may include scientific advancements that discredit forensic evidence used in a conviction.
The legislation was developed by a working group that included the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, the Office of the Attorney General, the Wyoming Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association and the Office of the State Public Defender.
“I am thrilled,” Pelkey said. “I carried similar measures as an individual legislator ever since I was elected. The key, though, this year was that it was taken as an interim topic by the Judiciary Committee. This year, it made it through without any serious opposition and it’s now signed into law.”
Rocky Mountain Innocence Center board member and Cheyenne attorney Aaron Lyttle said Wyoming’s law made it nearly impossible to overturn wrongful convictions because DNA evidence is rare and it takes an average of 10 years to investigate innocence claims, track down evidence and put the pieces together.
“Over the years, Rep. Pelkey and other lawmakers have been committed to fixing the law, and with the help of the working group we now have an excellent solution for the wrongfully convicted to get justice,” Lyttle said.
Sheridan County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Redle, who also serves on the Wyoming County and Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, said the association was happy to hear of the governor signing this bill into law.
“This statute will provide an important check ensuring justice and integrity in Wyoming’s criminal justice system,” Redle said. “We are proud of our association’s involvement in the development of this legislation.”
While there is no deadline for introducing DNA evidence after conviction, DNA is unavailable in 90% of criminal cases, making this new law a key component in proving innocence for the wrongly convicted.
In recent years, major flaws have been revealed in the forensic analysis of arson, hair comparisons, bullet lead comparisons and other disciplines. This law will provide innocent people with a course to overturn convictions based on this type of flawed, unreliable evidence.
The new law is based on Utah’s factual innocence law, which became law in 2008 and resulted in two exonerations.
The Wyoming law will come into effect July 1.