Archive for the ‘Constitution’ Category

Michigan Man Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 09, 2014 @ 9:01 AM — Comments (0)

Jaime Lee Peterson was exonerated today after spending 17 years in custody and in a Michigan prison for the rape and murder of a elderly woman that he did not commit. He was serving a life sentence. The cause of his wrongful conviction stems from his false confession during the interrogation process which happened four months after the murder. Despite knowing that DNA testing of the victim’s rape kit excluded Peterson as the rapist, the jury convicted Peterson at a 1998 trial. The prosecutor led the jury to believe that semen found at the crime scene that was, at that time, untestable most likely belonged to Mr. Peterson. Along with his initial confession, this was enough to sentence him to life in prison. New DNA testing was conducted last year at the urging of Mr. Peterson’s new attorneys, the testing sought to prove that the previously untestable DNA belonged to the same person whose DNA was found initially with the rape kit. All of the male DNA  tested in this case was found to match a man named Jason Ryan (who was actually interviewed during the initial investigation).  Ryan was arrested last year for this decades old crime and currently is awaiting trial. Petersen’s case was led by the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

This case is just another one to add to the troubling ever growing list of coerced false confessions. After initially confessing Jaime (who is cognitively impaired) recanted his statements, but that usually does the person in such a situation no good. Roughly a fourth of those exonerated in America falsely confessed to crimes at some point during their interrogation. Jaime is the fourth man in Michigan to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

Compensation,Constitution,exoneration,judicial,justice,legislation,post-conviction,prison,Prosecutorial misconduct,Science, , , , , , , , , , ,

Hank Skinner Continues to Languish on Texas’ Death Row

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 30, 2013 @ 2:01 PM — Comments (5)

A man has waited on death row in Texas for his exoneration for twenty years. Hank Skinner was convicted of murdering his then girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in January of 1993. The police failed to investigate another potential suspect, Twila’s uncle, who had a history of violent activity and molestation. At the trial, there was little mention of exculpatory evidence due to the fact that Skinner was at the scene of the murder. Upon his conviction, the jury recommended the death penalty. Skinner has been languishing on death row in Texas for twenty years all the while maintaining his innocence.

Now thanks to DNA testing Skinner may have a shot at regaining his freedom. Twila Busby’s uncle had often worn a jacket that was similar to the jacket found next to her body. Upon testing some hair on the jacket and in Twila’s hand it was found that the hairs belonged to her uncle. The District Attorney had made a promise to Hank Skinner that DNA testing would be allowed and taken into account though upon the test results being revealed the D.A was reticent to fulfill that promise.

After years of appeals and Skinner’s lawyers unsuccessfully fighting his case, Hank was to be executed, though at the last minute the state of Texas issued a stay of execution. Just one year later, the courts ruled that he would have access to the biological evidence in his case and justice would be served. Unfortunately for Hank and conveniently for Texas the original jacket that had already been tested was lost. However the hairs were still available. DNA testing on the hairs excluded Skinner and revealed a potential match to Twila’s uncle.

Hank SkinnerWhile the legal wrangling and testing has been going on, Hank was living on death row. Spending the majority of his days in a cramped small cell eating terrible food has begun to take its toll. Hank Skinner was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis recently and is back on death row while a resolution to his case is pending. What’s worse is that Twila Busby’s uncle, the only other suspect in the case, has been deceased for years and his body must be exhumed for Hank Skinner to be freed.

We all hope that Hank Skinner can stay healthy enough to see his family and friends again. More information about Hank Skinner’s case can be found at The Huffington Post and

Constitution,exoneration,justice,legislation,litigation,policy,prison, , , , , , , ,

New DNA Testing Reveals Florida Death Row Inmate’s Innocence

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 16, 2013 @ 4:44 PM — Comments (4)

DNA helped send Clemente Javier “Shorty” Aguirre to death row in 2006 for the murder of two Altamonte Springs neighbors. Now a team of attorneys have used a new round of DNA testing to prove the innocence Aguirre has been maintaining from the start. This round of DNA testing implicates the victim’s daughter, Samantha Williams, as the real perpetrator.

Cheryl Williams and Carol Bareis, Aguirre’s next-door neighbors, were mother and daughter found stabbed to death in their trailer in Seminole County on June 17, 2004. An undocumented Honduran, Aguirre initially told police that he didn’t know anything about the murders, though later that same day he admitted that he had discovered their bodies around six a.m. when he went to their house hoping to get some beer. When he found Cheryl Williams’ body lying in the foyer, he rolled her over to check for a pulse. Once he realized she was dead, he feared the killer may still be present and grabbed the knife near Cheryl’s body before walking through the rest of the house. When he realized no one was there, he panicked, discarded the knife, went home and stuffed his now-bloody clothes into a trash bag and threw them on the roof. He didn’t report the crime because he feared deportation.

At trial, the State prosecution presented DNA evidence to show the the victims’ blood was on Aguirre’s clothes, shoes, and the bloody knife, which is consistent with Aguirre’s testimony of how he discovered the bodies. The defense, unfortunately, conducted no tests on other bloodstains nor did they even view any of the 197 items of evidence that were collected in this case, much less retain a forensic expert to examine them. The State also offered testimony from a “bloodstain pattern expert” who claimed the stains on Aguirre’s clothes were “impact” or “cast off” rather than “transfer” (which is consistent with Aguirre’s testimony) and alleged that the murders occurred around eight or nine a.m., arguing in closing that Aguirre may have still been in the home when Samantha Williams’ then-boyfriend came to get her work clothes and discovered the bodies. The defense failed to retain any blood pattern, pathologist, or other forensic experts to counter the State’s theories or support Aguirre’s account.

Furthermore, at no time during the trial did Aguirre’s lawyer inquire about or otherwise present the jury with any of the readily-available evidence that Samantha was mentally ill, unstable, and had a volatile and at times violent relationship with her mother, including at least one prior threat to kill her.

On at least three occasions since the murders, Samantha has become so violent and uncontrollable that she has been involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities. Nearly three years prior to the murders, Samantha had been committed to psychiatric care by her mother, during which time she threatened to kill her mother in the presence of others. Then in December 2007, she was videoed as she repeatedly banged her head against the interior of a police car, sobbing, “my family died from me,” and then threatened to “murder” the officer who had taken her into custody. Again in August 2010, police were called to her home after she tried to set herself on fire and told a neighbor that “demons are in her head and caused her to kill her family.”

The attorney who represented Aguirre at his trial has been found constitutionally ineffective by the courts in at least one other death penalty case he handled. In total, Aguirre’s trial attorney has at least ten former clients presently on Florida’s death row.

In August 2011, Aguirre’s new counsel at the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel – Middle in Florida, in consultation with the Innocence Project, filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing which found that most of the bloodstains were traced to one or both victims, while no blood from Aguirre was found at the scene. By contrast, two distinct bloodstains were found to come from Samantha and were located in close proximity to the victims’ blood. Although opposed by the State, a second round of testing revealed a total of eight different bloodstains have been identified as Samantha’s, which were spread out over four rooms of the home, each near blood from one or both victims.

At the hearing that began in Sanford, Florida on May 13, 2013, Aguirre’s lawyers will be asking for post-conviction relief based on three separate grounds:

  1. that Aguirre’s lawyer was ineffective for failing to conduct DNA testing and investigate Samantha’s mental health history,
  2.  the new DNA evidence and pre- and post-trial violence by Samantha constitute newly discovered evidence that would have led the jury to an acquittal, and
  3.  the new evidence establishes Aguirre’s innocence.

In what seems like such a clear-cut case of innocence, it is certainly disturbing to consider the lengths the State has gone to in order to protect Samantha Williams from conviction, despite her long history of violence, instability, and pure animosity, while turning a blind eye to the injustices suffered by Aguirre.  Should Aguirre be exonerated, the State will have fought against the freedom of an innocent person and possibly undercut their ability to prosecute the real perpetrator.  This would be the ultimate injustice to both Mr. Aguirre and the victims in this case.

Aguirre is represented by Maria DeLiberato and Marie-Louise Samuels Parmer with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel – Middle Region.  Nina Morrison and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project and Seth Miller and Melissa Montle of the Innocence of Florida are serving as co-counsel.

Constitution,Innocence Project of Florida,judicial,justice,post-conviction, , , , , , , , ,

Release of Innocents, Destruction of Evidence & Examination of Eyewitness Testimony: News Round-up

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 30, 2011 @ 12:32 PM — Comments (1)

West Memphis Three Released. “I cannot believe that this day has come…” said Damien Echols upon his release August 19 from an Arkansas prison. Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were set free after serving 18 years for wrongful 1983 murder convictions of three children. A rarely used agreement called an Alford plea that is much like a sentence commutation provided the basis for letting the three innocent men out of prison.

Longtime supporter Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder said, “We are so grateful for the release of these three innocent men through the ‘Alford plea,’ a plea which essentially exists to right the wrongs of an imperfect system of justice. While we celebrate the freedom of Damien, Jason, and Jessie, we are also mindful that justice has been only half served. Three men lost 18 years of their lives to a wrongful conviction, and the killer of three young boys has still not been brought to justice. It is my hope that as the West Memphis Three begin to build their lives anew, the investigation of the real killer is pursued with renewed vigor.”

Many supporters from the legal, music and entertainment worlds worked hard on behalf of the West Memphis Three. Read more about it at BusinessWire or check out information about the HBO documentaries or a book on the subject at National Public Radio.

Justice Delayed, Stored, Then Finally Destroyed in Manatee County. We keep finding out more about destroyed evidence in a Bradenton bank vault. Thanks to legal efforts of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) on behalf of Derrick Williams (later proven innocent and released), it came to light in 2002 that lots of evidence belonging to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office was destroyed due to water damage. The number of involved cases that occurred from 1980 to 1995 is staggering – 3,637 – some possibly containing exculpatory evidence for others who were wrongfully convicted.

Said Seth Miller, IPF Executive Director, “One would have to think there are other Derrick Williams in those 3,600 cases…The takeaway is we’ll never know…Derrick was lucky,” he added. “He had a key piece of evidence held in the clerk of court. He had a key to unlock the truth about his case. For other people, their evidence was destroyed. Their chance at freedom may have burned along with the rest of the evidence that was incinerated.”

To learn more, read Lee Williams’ article at

U.S. Supreme Court to Take Another Look at Eyewitness Testimony.  Adam Liptak of The New York Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will explore again what the U.S. Constitution has to say about using eyewitness evidence – at once powerful and frequently wrong. The last time The Court considered this issue was 1977 and much has changed since then, namely DNA evidence. In fact, of the first 250 DNA exonerations, fully 190 included mistaken eyewitnesses.

Former Justice William J. Brennan once wrote “There is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says, ‘That’s the one!’”

While legal scholars and experts are happy that The Court is showing an interest in eyewitness testimony, the bigger issue of what is specifically involved in taking that look will likely not be addressed in the particular case of Perry v. New Hampshire, No, 10-8974. Barry Scheck, a director of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, calls for a new “legal architecture” in which judges are gatekeepers of eyewitness testimony with increased discretion to manage it.

More on Eyewitness Testimony from Florida. Todd Ruger of the Herald-Tribune reports of false eyewitness testimony in Sarasota County – it was at least 50 percent wrong at any rate.

An eyewitness identified two assailants in the June fatal shooting of a man on a Sarasota street. One of the men, Timothy Jenkins, Jr., declared his innocence but turned himself in. He was sure justice would be served. However, after 15 days of solitary confinement he asked his family to hire a lawyer. His lawyer with the help of a private investigator found other witnesses and a gas receipt to corroborate Jenkins’ story.

Jenkins was released after 39 days in jail and plans to start a new life in a state other than Florida.

Constitution,Innocence Project of Florida,judicial, , , , , , , , ,

U.S. Supreme Court Delays Execution

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 25, 2010 @ 12:47 AM — Comments (0)

Early Wednesday evening, the United Stated Supreme Court issued an order delaying the execution of Henry W. Skinner, a death row inmate in Texas pending a decision on Skinner’s Petition for Certiorari. The execution will be delayed at least until the Court decides his Petition stemming from his pursuit of a federal civil rights claim which asserts he was denied a chance to obtain DNA testing of evidence to prove his innocence of a triple murder for which he was convicted more than 16 years ago. His execution was originally scheduled for Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. EST.

According to the website SCOTUSblog:

Skinner is seeking to raise an issue that the Justices had agreed to review last Term in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne (08-6).  The Court decided the Osborne case on June 18, but left unresolved that specific issue.  The question is whether a state inmate seeking access to and testing of DNA evidence may pursue that claim under civil rights law (Section 1983), rather than in a federal habeas challenge.  Skinner’s lawyers contend that he has tried unsuccessfully to use Texas state procedures for DNA testing, so his only remaining chance to get it is through a civil rights claim.

Read the full story and find the link to the Court’s order HERE.

Constitution,judicial, , ,

Not Innocent Enough

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 08, 2009 @ 11:00 AM — Comments (0)

I hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. I’m going to start this week of talking (once again) about Cameron Todd Willingham.

Firstly, I highly recommend everyone read this article from The New Yorker. I hadn’t previously shared it, but it’s really the most amazing and heartwrenching piece describing Willingham’s story.

Second is an article from the Slate this weekend, entitled “Not Innocent Enough: The elusive search for the sufficiently innocent death-row victim.” This opinion article takes a look at the possible impact of Willingham’s case on death penalty support. Prior to the discovery of his innocence, the argument from death penalty supporters was the absence of proof that any death penalty victim had not been guilty of their crime. If there was an innocent person killed, would it change their minds?

The article mentions Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia several times, a Justice who has continuously fought for the death penalty. After the order to grant Troy Davis a new hearing, Scalia wrote..

“[t]his court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

Basically, it is technically not unconstitutional to kill an innocent man as long as he had a previous trial. I am shocked. If you execute someone who is actually innocent, there really is no consequence for those who put him there. In fact, back in 1993 the Supreme Court ruled that it was ok. I’m sure it’s not just me who thinks that wrongful execution isn’t a little mistake you can ignore. Changes need to be made to prevent this from happening again; one innocent person killed is too many. But how can we trust that the state will do what needs to be done when the Constitution tells them it’s ok?

In [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia’s America, the Cameron Todd Willingham whose very existence was once in doubt is today constitutionally immaterial. Having waited decades for an innocent victim of capital punishment, the fact that we have finally found one won’t matter at all. In this new America we can execute a man for an accidental house fire, while the constitution stands silently by.

It’s a scary world when the ones who are supposed to protect us are also the ones that kill us without any qualms about it.

Constitution, , ,

Tampa Tribune editorial supporting new DNA law misses the mark

Alejandra de la Fuente — July 01, 2009 @ 3:01 PM — Comments (3)

The Tampa Tribune published an editorial a few days ago supporting a law that forces arrestees to surrender DNA evidence when they are booked. The bill was signed into law a few weeks ago by Governor Crist.

The Trib takes great pleasure in smacking down the honest concerns of civil libertarians like myself, but they throw up a few bad arguments along the way.

They start by calling it a “logical addition” to state law, adding that people who are nowadays convicted of a felony and certain misdemeanors are required to give a DNA sample. The Tribune fails to understand that by requiring DNA of those simply arrested of a felony, the State is crossing the Rubicon.

Their argument essentially boils down to this: Because similar policies are in place, this incremental addition does not constitute a significant invasion of privacy above and beyond the status quo.

“Fingerprints are routinely taken after an arrest,” they say. I might say that DNA is fundamentally different from fingerprints, or argue that the policy of taking fingerprints is also an invasion of privacy. “We are videotaped in public everywhere we go,” they say. That doesn’t strike me as entirely uncontroversial, either. So what if similar practices are in place?

The Germans have an idiom: they say that freedom dies in little pieces. This is a much more eloquent way of saying that we should watch what steps we take down this slope; it might prove to be awfully slippery.

The Trib also makes an argument from utility and public safety, saying that the database has already proven useful to solving crimes and “taking dangerous people off the streets” – got to love that rhetoric. The idea is that a bigger database would mean solving more crimes. The question is, exactly how many, and how do they know? They say that there are as many as 230 hits on the database per month. No word on how many are felonies, or how many result in warrants, arrests, convictions, sentences of any decent amount of time, etc.

There is a good reason that the system oftentimes requires a warrant for taking invasive steps, such as searching a house or examining personal records. Our Constitution embodies the reasoning that it is better to involve impartial, independent third parties along the way to prevent abuses of power by any one institution.

This paragraph in particular really got me:

Appropriately, there is a reasonable process that allows people to have their DNA removed from the database: They can provide to FDLE certified copies of a final court order overturning or setting aside a conviction or certified court records showing formal charges were either not filed or dismissed or that the suspect was acquitted.

So, in the cases in which: you are arrested but held without charges, your charges are dismissed, or you are acquitted, the State acknowledges that they have no right to maintain a copy of your DNA on record. Why do they think it is any different for a person who has just been arrested? They seem to be making half-hearted nods toward libertarian concerns when they agree to remove your DNA from the database after the fact, but the same reasons that support that move argue that they should not take it to begin with.

We could likely prevent every crime by locking up everyone in the country, but that doesn’t justify doing it. We’re not living in a world of absolutes. We’re living in a world in which a balance needs to be struck between privacy and security. One does not override the other, and though it’s often difficult to tell where the line is, my intuitions tell me it is being crossed by the State of Florida as we speak.

Constitution,justice,policy, ,

Melendez-Diaz strengthens the Confrontation Clause

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 26, 2009 @ 11:10 AM — Comments (0)

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in the case of Melendez-Diaz vs. Massachusetts, and the gist was this (SCOTUSblog):

Now, if prosecutors want to offer a crime lab report as evidence, and the report was prepared with the aim that it would be used at trial, the prosecution has to bring along the author or scientist and make them available for questioning by the defense — if the defense insists on the right to confront the analyst.

Before, it was often enough to offer up the report written by an analyst, or to simply enter the report into evidence, without having the author themselves present for cross-examination. No longer. The response from civil libertarians has been elation.

Justice Antonin Scalia, the Confrontation Clause’s most devoted defender on the Court, wrote for the majority: “There is little reason to believe that confrontation will be useless in testing analysts’ honesty, proficiency, and methodology — the features that are commonly the focus in the cross-examination of experts.”

An important part of this victory is an admission by the Court that the conclusions of forensic science reflect the scientists who perform it in one important way – they are imperfect.

The opinion recited a good deal of information from published reports about how defective crime labs and their results are, and said that claims that lab reports are the product of “neutral scientific testing” are open to challenge because such reports are not “as neutral or as reliable” as advertised. “Forensic evidence,” Scalia wrote, “is not uniquely immune from the risk of manipulation.” (emphasis added)

Scalia goes so far, in his opinion for the majority, as to note the “risk of manipulation,” implying that results from crime labs are sometimes purposefully falsified, altered, or suppressed. While the malicious tampering is certainly a possibility, and does happen, I choose to focus instead on the possibility that scientists can be honestly mistaken. Besides being charitable, I reason that way because I think the thought process of the general public is something like this: (1) Scientists and the State do not meddle; they maintain honesty and integrity; (2) Scientists rarely (or never) make mistakes. I believe that arguing against the first point will meet more resistance, while people will be surprised by, but receptive to, the claim that scientists can make mistakes.

Either way, Scalia’s opinion notes both possibilities, and it’s refreshing to see that. Putting the analysts themselves on the stand is possibly the best way to ensure reliability and accountability in forensic testing.

Here is a roundup of reactions from around the net:

Constitution,justice,Science, , , ,

Osborne Roundup

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 19, 2009 @ 10:29 AM — Comments (0)

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Osborne is the biggest news of the last few days and has been covered left and right. Here is a list of other outlets that have chimed in:

The New York Times: Editorial: Unparalleled and Denied.

The Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court rules DNA tests for prisoners not a constitutional right.

The Washington Post: Court Limits Access to DNA Evidence: Justices Rule That Inmates Lack Constitutional Right to Testing

The Christian Science Monitor: What impact will Supreme Court decision on DNA evidence have?

The Associated Press: Court finds convicts have no right to test DNA

Reason: Supreme Court Says No Right to Post-Conviction DNA Testing

SCOTUSblog: Analysis: Handing off the DNA issue The Supreme Court Denies The Right to DNA Testing

The Innocence Project in New York: A Disappointing Decision and a Renewed Call for Reform

Constitution,judicial,post-conviction, , ,

Some Thoughts on Osborne

Seth — June 19, 2009 @ 9:27 AM — Comments (0)

I was about to walk into a prison for a legal visit yesterday when Ryan texted me the news that the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the 9th Circuit and held in Osborne that inmates do not have a constitutional right to postconviction access to DNA testing.

Certainly this is a disappointing decision on a number of levels:

1.  As demonstrated in so many cases as of late, the very existence of constitutional rights is generally in the hands of one Supreme Court Justice and this could just as easily have tipped the other way if the the makeup of the court was slightly different.  This notion is proof positive that our constitutional rights are fragile at best and that if we want them preserved, we better elect better leaders.

2.  The Court failed to recognize, as they often do,  a number of realities inherent in criminal proceedings.

  • First, they seemed obsessed with this idea that Osborne could have had more advanced testing pre-trial and failed to procure it.  The Court ignored (or in Alito’s case was just unreasonably skeptical of) the clear and undisputed fact that Mr. Osborne begged his lawyer for the additional testing after the first round of primitive pre-trial testing was inconclusive. Yet his counsel chose not to do it because she thought he may be guilty.  Of course, defense lawyers have argued all sorts of defenses, such as self-defense and insanity, at trial because they thought that was what was best for their client at that time, only for the client to prove his innocence many years later through post-conviction DNA testing.  Just as prosecutors, judges and juries get it wrong, so to do defense attorneys.  Thus, we shouldn’t give their “gut feeling” any additional credibility.
  • Second, experts have testified that the testing that Osborne pleaded for before trial, RFLP, would have been unlikely to achieve a result because the sample was degraded even at that time.  We have come a long way with DNA testing methods able to achieve results on smaller, older,  more degraded, and even mixed samples.  IPF has gotten DNA results at private laboratories in cases over 30 years old.  Had testing been performed in this case using the most advanced methods now available to the scientific community, I have no doubt that they would have at least been well-positioned to get a result that could either disprove or confirm Osborne’s guilt.
  • Third, the Court was also stuck on this fact that Osborne had confessed after trial.  But this wasn’t just any confession.  He admitted guilt as a means to get out of prison on parole.  In order to get paroled in most states, you have to admit guilt and show remorse, among other things.  Thus, such an action is completely at odds with folks who are wrongfully convicted.  It is understandable that an innocent individual would refuse to plea to a crime they didn’t commit, because of pride and because of faith in the justice system to not railroad them.  But is it equally understandable that an innocent person, realizing that they may die in prison, would opt to swallow their pride and falsely admit guilt in order to be die a free man.  If the DNA testing can prove such a person innocent, than we should do it irrespective of such a confession.  If it does and the State wants to prosecute them for perjury in the parole proceeding, then we should let the State bear the burden of the political shitstorm that would result from revictimizing someone who they wrongfully incarcerated.

3.  Had the Court recognized a constitutional right to postconviction access to DNA testing here, it would have, in theory, expanded the access that imprisoned Floridians already have under Florida law.  It likely would have allowed IPF to cut through some of the tired methods the State uses to frustrate or prevent DNA testing that most inmates are entitled to under the law.  Obviously, it would have made our lives and the lives of our clients a bit easier.

The reality is, however, that yesterday’s decision has little effect on us here in Florida.  Attorney General Holder (who has been wildly diappointing on so many fronts thus far) does make a good point:

But today’s decision is limited: the Court merely spoke about what is constitutional, not what is good policy. And there is a fundamental difference. Constitutional rights are only one part of a fair and full system of justice. Simply because a course of action is constitutional does not make it wise. Nothing in today’s decision detracts from the unique power of DNA; indeed, the first line of today’s Court opinion emphasized that ‘DNA testing has an unparalleled ability both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty.’ DNA testing helps ensure that justice is done.”For that reason, this administration believes that defendants should be permitted access to DNA evidence in a range of circumstances. In the 2004 Innocence Protection Act, Congress guaranteed access to DNA evidence held by the federal government under specific conditions, and made money available to encourage states to do the same. Today’s decision reaffirmed the power of such practices, and I hope that in light of today’s decision all levels of government will follow the federal government’s lead by working to expand access to DNA evidence.”

Florida has a decent postconviction DNA testing statute that allows an inmate to request such testing at any time (in most instances) and even in most case cases where the inmate pled to the crime, if the inmate can satisfy certain requirements.  Peter Neufeld, co-founder ofThe Innocence Project and who argued Osborne in the Supreme Court, echos my sentiment.

But what about the people, like Mr. Osborne, in the remaining three states of Alaska, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma who may be innocent with no way to prove it because these states are the lone holdouts without a postconviction DNA testing statute?  How many DNA exonerations do we need before legislatures in these states take off the blinders and quit being willfully ignorant to the fact that they are the recalcitrant minority in this country?  It is particularly bad considering that Massachusetts has had 9 DNA exonerees, while Oklahoma has had 10.

I guess we will have to cross our fingers and hope they will eventually do the right thing.  I won’t hold my breath.

Constitution,judicial,post-conviction, , ,

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