Due to the collaborative work of students at the University of Washington School of Law Innocence Project Northwest, prisoners in limited community custody are now entitled to government funded DNA testing. Leading the case in State v. Slattum were students Jacob Dishion, Kelly Paradis, and Anna Tolin, the Innocence Project Northwest’s deputy director. Dishion served as the Project’s representative.
The case is critical for Washington state defendants accused of crimes they did not commit seeking to have evidence from their prosecutions submitted for DNA testing. Under the state’s law, only those serving “a term of imprisonment” are able to request DNA testing. Mr. Slattum was neither in prison nor serving a probationary sentence; he was, however, under “community custody” and was required to register as a sex-offender for the remainder of his life. The Washington Supreme Court held, following the students’ argument, that a strict interpretation of the word “imprisonment” would be unjust, and would mean that many people who should be able to get DNA testing would be denied.
Under the ruling, prisoners in community custody must first fill out a form claiming their innocence which has to be approved. Then they become eligible to receive the state funded DNA test. There are twice as many prisoners in community custody than those that are not, meaning this would undoubtedly cost the state more money. State v. Slattum was the first case in the state of Washington to address this law. The Slattum case is the Project’s first victory in which a student served as a representative.