Supreme Court Grants Cert in Important DNA Case:
Adam Liptak reports:
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether people convicted of crimes have a constitutional right to test DNA evidence that could prove their innocence.The Ninth Circuit opinion below is here, and it expressed the holding as follows:
The case pits the value of finality in criminal cases against the possibility of proving an inmate’s innocence long after trials and appeals are concluded.
In April, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ordered prosecutors in Alaska to turn over DNA evidence that had been used to convict William G. Osborne of kidnapping and raping a prostitute. The appeals court said that biological evidence — hairs and semen — could be subjected to more sophisticated DNA testing than had been used by the prosecution to implicate Mr. Osborne.
Prosecutors in Alaska, in their brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, No. 08-6, said the appeals court had “created from whole cloth” a constitutional right of post-conviction access to DNA evidence. The prosecutors added that the court had made a separate mistake in allowing a right of access to be pursued even if a conviction was not being challenged in a pending case.
We . . . hold that Osborne’s right to due process of law prohibits the State from denying him reasonable access to biological evidence for the purpose of further DNA testing, where that biological evidence was used to secure his conviction, the DNA testing is to be conducted using methods that were unavailable at the time of trial and are far more precise than the methods that were then available, such methods are capable of conclusively determining whether Osborne is the source of the genetic material, the testing can be conducted without cost or prejudice to the State, and the evidence is material to available forms of post- conviction relief.This will be a very interesting case to watch. The successful cert petition is available here.
In so holding, however, we do not purport to set the standards by which all future cases must be judged. We are presented with a certain set of circumstances presenting a meritorious case for disclosure, and our analysis and holding are addressed to those circumstances only.