Sen. Rick Kolowski has a window on what's happening with DNA science.
His son has worked as a DNA specialist 17 years, first in New York City and now in a Washington, D.C., crime lab.
"The opportunities for catching those who do wrong, as well as freeing those who are innocent is an extremely important piece of what we've gained and what we can prove with DNA testing," Kolowski said Tuesday during debate on a bill (LB245) that would expand post-conviction DNA testing in Nebraska.
The bill introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks advanced Tuesday to a second round of consideration.
"This just makes good sense. We all know that in Nebraska we've had the very sad case of the Beatrice Six," she said. "And we need to be able to make sure that justice is done and that we are not keeping innocent people in prison."
In 2009, DNA testing sought by one of six people convicted in the 1985 murder of a Beatrice exonerated all six. Joseph White -- the only one of the six to go to trial and who maintained his innocence even after a jury convicted him -- won his plea for DNA testing, which led to an investigation that cleared him and the other five.
An amended version of Pansing Brook's bill would clarify that DNA testing would be allowed if biological evidence was not previously tested or if more advanced technology could give more accurate results.
Under current law, the court can order a DNA test if it determines that three factors are present.
* DNA testing was effectively not available at trial.
* The biological material to be tested is still in its original condition.
* It is likely the DNA evidence would have produced a different outcome if it had been available at the original trial.
Science has outpaced the law, said Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
"And we need to catch up with science and make sure that everybody that's sitting out on South 14th Street is a guilty party, and anybody that's innocent has the opportunity to file a motion for a new trial, present their ... evidence and see where they stand," he said.
Nebraska was one of the first states to put DNA testing into law with a bill introduced 14 years ago by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers. Now, a much smaller amount of biological evidence can be used to determine a person's involvement in a crime or to exonerate him or her, Chambers said.
DNA testing can not only remedy a miscarriage of justice, said Pansing Brooks, it can lead to the person who actually committed the crime.
In 325 DNA exoneration cases nationwide, the actual criminal was identified in 160. While the innocent person was in prison, those criminals committed 77 rapes, 34 murders and 33 other violent crimes, Pansing Brooks said.