Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Court rules innocent inmates are not entitled to exculpatory DNA evidence

In a stunning decision that goes against fundamental due process rights and the perception of liberty in the United States the United States Supreme Court has ruled that inmates do not have a due process right to access DNA test results that prove their innocence.

The case before the court concerned Alaskan William G. Osborne, who was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a prostitute in Anchorage. Osborne had sought to do DNA testing, at his own expense, on evidence used to convict him. Although prosecutor's acknowledged that the test could confirm who actually committed the crime the State of Alaska fought vigorously to keep Osborne from having access to DNA testing of the evidence.

The Court reasoned that once someone has been convicted and sentenced to prison that DNA testing could show that the inmate was wrongly convicted and the Court should not establish a constitutional right to not be wrongly imprisoned. Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged the “unparalleled ability” of DNA testing “both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty.” However, Roberts felt that allowing the innocent to go free would be an unwelcome burden to the state.

In a dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said the Constitution’s due process clause required allowing Mr. Osborne to have access to DNA evidence in his case. “For reasons the state has been unable or unwilling to articulate,” Justice Stevens wrote, “it refuses to allow Osborne to test the evidence at his own expense and to thereby ascertain the truth once and for all.”

This ruling follows along the lines of many state court ruling in family law cases. Many states including Indiana have ruled that the danger or harm to a child in a particular custody situation is not a valid consideration for a change in that custody if the child has become accustomed to the danger or harm that is occurring.

Ultimately it is the message that would be sent to the people that compel prosecutors and judges to keep innocent people in prison or children in danger. Correcting a wrong denotes just that. That there was a wrong. If every innocent defendant was turned loose or brought back to life or if every child who was placed into harm by a judge were put back into the custody of a caring and loving parent there would be a tidal wave of relocating people. By allowing the people to see the injustices perpetrated upon them by corrupt prosecutors and judges people would see just how corrupt the court system is. This is why judges and prosecutors oppose correcting wrongs.

Unlike the majority on the court, Justices Alito, Kennedy and Thomas joined Stevens in declaring that the potential innocence of an inmate should be a challenge that the state should have to meet and the mere inconvenience to the state does not justify keeping innocent people in prison.


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