Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Chief Justice calls for appointments to DNA Task Force

July 7, 2008

In response to the Mississippi Legislature’s directive, Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. has called for appointments to a task force which will study proper preservation of DNA evidence.

Gov. Haley Barbour on May 9 signed into law Senate Bill 2619, which creates a task force to recommend procedures and practices to improve the preservation and testing of biological evidence. The Task Force’s report is due by Dec. 1.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court under the new statute has one appointment to the 23-member task force. Chief Justice Smith appointed Tchula Mayor Yvonne L. Brown.

The Chief Justice has the duty to convene the Task Force to begin its work. Chief Justice Smith said that he will convene the first meeting as soon as other appointing authorities name enough members to constitute a quorum. The Chief Justice in a letter sent to appointing entities on July 3 asked for quick action in naming the other members.

Chief Justice Smith said, “The need for statewide standards for DNA evidence, training of our law enforcement officers, maintaining a centralized tracking system, and adherence to standards promulgated by the National Association of Medical Examiners as to caseloads are essential for any criminal justice system. This task force’s monumental job is extremely important to all our citizens.”

In addition to one at large member to be appointed by the Chief Justice, the statute sets out the task force makeup as follows:

• three law enforcement officers possessing experience in evidence handling, collection and retention, one each appointed by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Mississippi Association of Sheriffs;

• a representative of the Mississippi Association of Circuit Clerks who has knowledge and experience in evidence handling, collection and retention;

• one appointee of the Commissioner of Public Safety;

• one appointee of the Attorney General;

• a prosecutor appointed by the Mississippi District Attorneys Association;

• a criminal defense lawyer appointed by the Mississippi Public Defender Association;

• four members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, including a representative of an organization dedicated to investigating post-conviction claims of innocence, a member of the House Judiciary A Committee, a member of the House Judiciary B Committee, and an at large member;

• four members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, including a representative of a victims' rights organization, a member of the Senate Judiciary A Committee, a member of the Senate Judiciary B Committee, and an at large member;

• two people having expertise in criminology, criminal justice, or both, to be appointed by the deans of the University of Mississippi School of Law and the Mississippi College School of Law;

• four legislators to be appointed, one each, by the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary A and Judiciary B committees.

The Task Force’s duties, set out by statute, include:

• Recommend statewide standards regarding proper identification, collection, preservation, storage, cataloguing and organization of biological evidence;

• Seek out sources of funding, including, but not limited to, federally earmarked funds to satisfy some or all of the associated costs of implementing reform;

• Recommend essential components of training programs for law enforcement officers and other relevant employees who are charged with preserving and retrieving biological evidence;

• Issue recommendations regarding the creation of a centralized tracking system through which laboratories, facilities and other related entities may locate biological evidence connected to felony cases. Recommendations shall include protocols for the retrieval of biological evidence for cases that have already resulted in felony convictions and for unsolved felony cases.

• Review practices, protocols, models and resources for the cataloguing and accessibility of preserved biological evidence already in the possession of local, county and state entities that preserve such evidence;

• Review practices, protocols, models and resources for medicolegal death investigation officers, including the collection and preservation of biological samples that can be a source of DNA for testing, as well as adherence to the standards promulgated by the National Association of Medical Examiners, especially as to caseloads.