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Supreme Court Denies Criminals The Right To DNA Evidence Tests

June 18, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that convicted criminals do not have a constitutional right to obtain access to a state’s biological evidence to conduct DNA testing when pursuing claims of innocence, Reuters reported.

The nation’s highest court ruled in a 5-4 vote on Thursday to refuse the creation of a new legal right for post-conviction DNA testing, which has exonerated at least 232 people nationwide years after they had been convicted of crimes.

The decision maintains that forty-six states and the federal government have laws that give convicts some access to DNA testing.

States including Alaska, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma do not explicitly allow such testing.

However, some states opposed to the testing argue it would be costly and would likely lead to unnecessary litigation in cases in which a defendant received a fair trial and there was overwhelming evidence showing guilt.

A U.S. appeals court ruling for William Osborne, who was convicted for the 1993 rape, kidnapping and assault of a prostitute near the Anchorage airport, was also overturned.

It was ruled that Osborne has a right to subject certain biological evidence to advanced DNA testing as part of his later defense claims.

Osborne initially declined the advanced DNA test at trial and later admitted his guilt in 2004 while under oath to a parole board. A separate suspect who was also convicted in the attack has stated repeatedly that Osborne was involved in the incident.

For fear that the results might incriminate him, Osborne’s lawyers decided not to pursue the more advanced DNA testing before his case went to trial. The biological evidence could be from Osborne as well as about 15 percent of all black men, based on results from a less refined test used by the state.

But in an effort to prove his innocence, Osborne sought access to the biological evidence for the advanced DNA testing.

However, the state of Alaska said a right to post-conviction DNA testing would “open the floodgates” for lawsuits seeking new tests for old evidence and the U.S. Justice Department supported the decision.

Alaska said the issue should be left to the states and Congress to adopt their own procedures.

Chief Justice John Roberts agreed and said rules and procedures are being shaped by legislatures and state courts.

“There is no reason to constitutionalize the issue,” he wrote in the opinion for the court’s conservative majority.

However, liberal justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer contested the decision.

Stevens cited a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done in this case, stating there was “no reason to deny access to the evidence”.

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