Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $500,000)
In 1997, Illinois became one of the first states to adopt legislation that provides for postconviction DNA testing to prove actual innocence [725 ILCS 5/116-3]; Illinois recently expanded that legislation to allow offenders who had pled guilty to be afforded the right to DNA testing. Illinois also enacted an evidence preservation law; if DNA material can be retrieved, the newest forensic techniques may provide DNA profiles that could help to resolve old cases and shed new light on previous judgments.
Through this solicitation, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) seeks funding to support one full-time Postconviction DNA Assistant State’s Attorney (ASA) to work 100% on reviewing and investigating DNA-related postconviction cases in Cook County, Illinois. This will enable the SAO to continue to meet the increased demand for and complexity of DNA testing sought by convicted defendants claiming actual innocence, benefitting the Cook County community by ensuring fair access to justice. Recognizing the invaluable contributions of the Postconviction DNA Specialist (PDS), the SAO absorbed that forensic scientist position into the corporate budget. The PDS will continue to provide onsite information regarding technical and non-technical DNA issues in regard to post-conviction cases, advise the ASA on specific issues such as the explanation of report findings, statistics and conclusions, and assist with reexamining any previous DNA reports.
The goal for this program is to efficiently and fully address postconviction violent felony offenses where actual innocence might be demonstrated through DNA analysis. This goal will be achieved through the following objectives: 1) identify potential postconviction DNA testing cases; 2) review all aspects of at least 150 DNA-related post-conviction violent felony cases that raise claims of actual innocence; 3) locate biological evidence associated with such postconviction cases; 4) perform and evaluate DNA analysis of appropriate biological evidence and report and review DNA test results.
The grant-funded ASA, in collaboration with the PDS, will evaluate the evidence by reviewing crime scene photos, police reports, lab reports, notes and evidence receipts, statements of witnesses, and medical examiner reports. They will assist in locating the physical evidence and work with the Illinois State Police laboratory, who will provide guidance and input on testing. After the initial review and reinvestigation of the case, it will be determined what follow-up steps need to be taken.