Access to DNA evidence

October 11, 2010
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When it’s a matter of life or death, wouldn’t you want to be sure – really sure – that you had convicted the correct person of murder? Especially when that person has been sentenced to die for the crime?

One of the Indianapolis news stations ran a short story about the Texas case, Skinner v. Switzer, No. 09-9000, which the Supreme Court of the United States will hear Wednesday. Skinner’s on Texas’ death row and the nation’s highest court stopped his execution earlier this year to take a look at his case.

The issue – if Skinner can sue in a civil rights claim to get access to DNA evidence for testing or whether this can only be asserted in a petition for writ of habeas corpus.

The news piece said Skinner had been convicted in 1995 of killing his girlfriend and her two adult sons. He always maintained his innocence and wants DNA tests done on the blood and other biological evidence found at the crime scene. According to his brief before the court, only the blood stains on his clothes were tested.

The argument against letting him have access to the evidence for testing is that he had the chance to have it tested at trial, but didn’t do so, and he didn’t meet a key requirement – sufficient evidence to prove his innocence – to be eligible for additional testing under Texas law. There’s also the belief that last year’s SCOTUS ruling in Osborne prevents Skinner’s attempt at testing the evidence. In Osborne, a 5-4 court ruled the man had no right to pay for a DNA test to prove his innocence and allowing him to do so would risk overthrowing the established system of criminal justice.

I was confused when Osborne came down and I’m still puzzled as to why our court system wouldn’t want to make sure that they’ve got the right person when it comes to people on death row? Maybe it’s because I’m not a lawyer and don’t know all the procedures when it comes to DNA testing. Perhaps someone reading this blog can help me understand, but if the evidence exists, and it’s not going to cost the state anything to test it, why not do it to be sure? We read cases all the time of people who sat in prison for years only to be exonerated later on. See today’s daily for an example of that. Why not allow Skinner the chance for testing?

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  1. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  2. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  3. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

  4. My dear Smith, I was beginning to fear, from your absense, that some Obrien of the Nanny State had you in Room 101. So glad to see you back and speaking truth to power, old chum.

  5. here is one from Reason magazine. these are not my words, but they are legitimate concerns. http://reason.com/blog/2010/03/03/fearmongering-at-the-splc quote: "The Southern Poverty Law Center, which would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds, has issued a new "intelligence report" announcing that "an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) -- a 244% jump." To illustrate how dangerous these groups are, the Center cites some recent arrests of right-wing figures for planning or carrying out violent attacks. But it doesn't demonstrate that any of the arrestees were a part of the Patriot milieu, and indeed it includes some cases involving racist skinheads, who are another movement entirely. As far as the SPLC is concerned, though, skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary. The group delights in finding tenuous ties between the tendencies it tracks, then describing its discoveries in as ominous a tone as possible." --- I wonder if all the republicans that belong to the ISBA would like to know who and why this outfit was called upon to receive such accolades. I remember when they were off calling Trent Lott a bigot too. Preposterous that this man was brought to an overwhelmingly republican state to speak. This is a nakedly partisan institution and it was a seriously bad choice.

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