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An Important Step Forward in Protecting the Innocent | Commentary

As a governor, and now as a senator, I know firsthand of the potential power of the Justice for All Actís provisions which support this type of post-conviction review of DNA evidence. Thomas Haynesworth served 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was accused of raping five women, and while the real criminal went on to rape another 10 women, Haynesworth sat in prison. While I was governor, I ordered a review of his case. During that review, which continued after I left Richmond, DNA evidence proved that Haynesworth was not the criminal. His case was ultimately supported by Virginiaís Republican governor and attorney general, and Haynesworth was released from prison on his 46th birthday. His story brought a diverse group together who share the common belief that our system of justice must work.

The strong enforcement of our laws has to be combined with a willingness to discover the truth whenever we can. Thatís why we must reauthorize this law in order to ensure that no defendant is wrongly convicted, and that no crime victim goes without the peace of mind of knowing the true offender has been clearly identified and properly punished. When mistakes are made in our criminal justice system, we all are less safe.

This is not, and never should be, a partisan issue. The author of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act, Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, knows this. And so does Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, another co-sponsor of this legislation.

I encourage my colleagues in Congress to join me in support of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act. By working together, we can do something real for the innocent, and instill greater confidence that we are punishing the guilty. This bipartisan legislation provides more support for victims of crime, and offers reassurance to so many others who may have lost faith in the integrity of our criminal justice system.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, served as governor of Virginia from 2002 to 2006. He currently serves on the Senateís Banking, Budget, Finance and Intelligence committees.

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