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Colorado’s Amendments to Post-Conviction DNA Testing Statute Allows Greater Number of Affected Persons to Seek Testing

by Douglas Ankney

On March 10, 2023, Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 1034 (“HB 1034”) into law, opening the door to a greater number of people convicted of felonies to be eligible for DNA testing. Colorado’s previous law allowed only people who are actively incarcerated to receive DNA testing, but the new law – which took effect on October 1, 2023 – allows people on felony parole, registered sex offenders, people who have completed their sentences, and people who were found not guilty by reason of insanity to receive DNA testing.

“We heard incredible testimony in committee about folks being wrongfully convicted and not able to access testing, which is what this bill does,” said one of HB 1034’s sponsors, Rep. Lindsey Daugherty (D. - Arvada). Indeed, HB 1034 was unanimously approved by both the State House and State Senate.

Robert “Rider” Dewey, one of the only three Coloradans exonerated for DNA-related reasons under the previous law, spent 18 years in prison after being sentenced to life for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in 1994. Testifying in support of HB 1034, he revealed that he repeatedly requested DNA testing while in prison but was denied for years. That didn’t change until he connected with the Innocence Project in 2007 – and even then, the testing was not completed until 2010, and the conviction was not overturned until 2012. While in prison, Dewey said his son, his only child, died. He added that “I’ve got titanium from my first vertebrae to my pelvis now because of all the stomping I got.”

The extremely low number of DNA-related exonerations in Colorado as compared with other states of similar size was a factor prompting the changes to the law. The new law makes these changes to previous law:

Changes the standard for obtaining testing, allowing people with reasonable claims of innocence to access evidence in the state’s control;

Allows formerly incarcerated people to access DNA testing to prove their innocence and clear their name;

Allows for subsequent petitions for DNA testing, particularly in cases where advances in DNA technology make it possible to obtain clearer results;

Ensures that all parties have a voice in determining the means and methods of testing and allows for the testing to be conducted at private laboratories upon agreement of all parties;

Enables courts to vacate convictions upon receiving DNA evidence that proves a person’s innocence; and

Ensures that victims’ rights are respected and the Victim Rights Act is followed.  


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