Posted Jun 18, 2009 03:04 pm CDT
In a sharp 5-4 split, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning that an individual whose conviction is already final doesn’t have the right to access evidence to do DNA testing that could prove innocence.
Writing for the majority in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said DNA testing provides “an unparalleled ability” to prove innocence or guilt, but its availability “cannot mean that every criminal conviction, or even every criminal conviction involving biological evidence, is suddenly in doubt,” reports SCOTUSblog.
The chief justice noted in the opinion (PDF) that access to DNA evidence is in the realm of legislature.
Indeed, the decision may have limited impact given that the federal government and 47 states already have laws allowing convicts some access to genetic evidence, the Associated Press reports.
The AP notes that such testing has led to the exoneration of at least 232 people who had been found guilty of murder, rape and other violent crimes.
In the underlying case, a woman in Alaska was raped, beaten with an ax handle, shot in the head and left for dead in a snow bank. Osborne was seeking access to a condom alleged to have been used in the assault.
Dissenting, Justice John Paul Stevens decried the majority’s ruling and said a simple test could settle the case.
“The court today blesses the state’s arbitrary denial of the evidence Osborne seeks,” Stevens wrote.
Previous ABAJournal.com posts: