Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Post-Conviction DNA Testing


Hooray! There is simply no excuse for refusing to test DNA evidence after conviction. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Monday gave a Texas prisoner who was nearly executed last year the right to seek DNA evidence from the crime scene that he says could prove his innocence.

The 6-3 decision opens a narrow window for prisoners to sue for and obtain DNA evidence that went untested at the time of their trials.

In recent years, most states have enacted laws that allow prisoners to seek DNA testing of evidence that could prove crucial to their cases. The high court ruling is expected to add to the momentum for DNA testing and help prisoners in those states that have resisted new testing of old evidence.

Last March, Hank Skinner came within hours of being put to death for the murder of his live-in girl friend and her two sons in 1993. Skinner maintained that he was innocent, even though his blood was found on one of the victim's clothes and his bloody palm prints were found throughout the house.

Skinner insisted another man had committed the crime while he was drunk and asleep on the couch, and he sought DNA testing of two knives, an ax handle, fingernail clippings and hair samples that were found near the murder victims. The evidence had not been tested prior to his trial, and since his conviction, local and state prosecutors have steadfastly refused to permit it to be tested. They argued that it is too late for a convicted prisoner to seek testing of evidence that was available at the time of the trial.

As I wrote in a 2000 column advocating the expansion of post-conviction DNA testing: 

…the exoneration of convicts based on DNA evidence shows that the technology can also be used as a check on government, and proposals for public financing of these tests make sense. Indeed, the federal and state governments should be eager to pay for DNA testing and analysis to be sure that no innocent person has been wrongfully imprisoned. After all, if the government isn't about rendering justice, what is it about?