Supreme Court, 5-4, Rejects Constitutional Right to DNA Testing

Saturday, June 20, 2009
Clark McMillan of Memphis, cleared by DNA testing after 20 years in prison

Although its ruling rejected any constitutional right to DNA testing by prisoners, a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Thursday is not expected to drastically affect efforts by inmates across the country to challenge their convictions through genetic testing thanks to the existence of individual state laws. The high court’s ruling in District Attorney’s Office for the Third Judicial District v. Osborne mostly impacted the exoneration attempts of a man in Alaska, William G. Osborne, who was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a prostitute in Anchorage. The ruling majority, consisting of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel Alito Jr., Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, found no reason “to suddenly constitutionalize this area,” wrote Roberts.

Alaska is one of just four states in the nation that do not have laws allowing for post-conviction DNA testing. Of the remaining three (Alabama, Massachusetts and Oklahoma), Alabama recently implemented a testing law that applies to death row inmates.
The Innocence Project, which represents Osborne, expressed mixed reactions to the court’s decision. A statement released by the inmate advocacy organization said its leaders were disappointed by the ruling, but that “we have always said this case would have a very limited impact. In the vast majority of cases, prisoners are granted DNA testing under state law or because prosecutors consent to testing without a court order.”
Peter Neufeld, a director of the project, warned in the New York Times, “It’s unquestionable that some people in some states who are factually innocent will not get DNA testing and will languish in prison,” adding “some of them will die in prison.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Justices Reject Inmate Right to DNA Tests (by Adam Liptak, New York Times)


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