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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