The state of Texas was 47 minutes from executing Henry "Hank" Skinner in March when Justice Antonin Scalia gave him a last-minute stay. Last month, the Supreme Court as a whole agreed to hear Skinner's case in the fall. At issue is whether Skinner should be given access to crime-scene evidence and DNA testing that he and his lawyers say will prove his innocence. However the court comes out, Skinner's case raises a fundamental question about how police and district attorneys investigate and prosecute crimes: Why wasn't this evidence tested before Skinner's trial? And why hasn't it been tested since?
The answers lie in the adversarial nature of our criminal justice system. There are times when neither the prosecution nor the defense is particularly interested in discovering the truth. That's where policy makers need to step in. In cases like Skinner's, they should establish a common-sense rule: When there is biological evidence at the crime scene, all of that evidence should be sent for DNA testing. No exceptions.