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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Inmate has Right to DNA Test

Posted Nov 3, 2008 10:32 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a former inmate convicted of raping and assaulting a prostitute has a constitutional right to a DNA test that he claims will establish his innocence.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to hear the civil rights claim of Alaska inmate William Osborne, SCOTUSblog reports. Before Osborne’s trial, his lawyer had declined a DNA test for fear it would confirm his guilt, the Washington Post reports in a story on the case written before today’s cert grant.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled for Osborne, allowing him to sue under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act to obtain the state’s DNA evidence, according to the SCOTUSblog story. The 9th Circuit found Osborne had a due process right to the evidence under the 14th Amendment so he could assert an actual innocence claim.

Osborne’s claim is based on a right to exculpatory evidence under Brady v. Maryland, according to the blog. Prosecutors contend the right to such evidence does not extend to post-conviction proceedings.

Forty-four states have passed laws allowing inmates to obtain DNA for post-conviction testing, but Alaska is not one of them, according to the Post story. It says Osborne was released from prison last year, but he was arrested again in December on charges stemming from a home invasion in which the victims were bound with duct-tape and pistol whipped.

The case is District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne. SCOTUSblog posted the cert petition (PDF).

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