Wrongfully convicted people may now have an easier path to exoneration.
Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill into law Monday, expanding the length of time wrongfully convicted people have to introduce exonerating evidence. A group that works to reverse wrongful convictions said the new law could serve as a model for the nation.
In Wyoming, people convicted of crimes had a two-year window in which they could present non-DNA evidence in an effort to have their conviction overturned.
After that time period, they could only introduce DNA evidence to fight their conviction.
The new law, which was sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Committee, eliminates that two-year limit, allowing wrongfully convicted people to introduce non-DNA evidence at any point.
Appeals seeking to overturn wrongful convictions typically take 10 years to assemble, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that provides legal help to wrongfully convicted people and seeks to reform laws nationwide to make the path to exoneration easier for innocent people.
“This new law is a model for the entire country. It will help the innocent get justice and help law enforcement identify the person who actually committed the crime,” Michelle Feldman, a lobbyist for the Innocence Project, said in a news release.
A piece of similar legislation sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey failed last year after opposition from the Attorney General’s Office.
The new law was written by a coalition of interested parties — including representatives of the Attorney General — in Pelkey’s office over the summer.
“I am thrilled,” Pelkey said in the news release. “I do want to say that this is also a fitting memorial to Diane Courselle, the University of Wyoming law professor in charge of the Defender Aid clinic. She’s the one that brought this issue to my attention and offered several early drafts of the bill. Diane passed away a couple of years ago and I am so pleased that we finally got it through in her honor.”