I just received an email from the Innocence Project in New York regarding the ruling in Osborne today. The ruling could be seen as hostile to progress on the criminal justice front, but the national IP seems fairly cautious.
In a 5-4 ruling today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that our client, William Osborne, will not get DNA testing that could prove his innocence. The court ultimately ruled that the finality of a conviction is more important than making sure the right person was convicted.
Today’s decision is deeply disappointing and flawed, but it will have a limited impact because most cases are resolved at the local or state level. In the aftermath of this Supreme Court ruling, the Innocence Project is more determined than ever to pass laws granting access to DNA testing in the last three states that lack them and to improve existing laws in other states. We cannot do it without your help.
Alaska, where Osborne is imprisoned, is one of just three states in the U.S. that lack laws providing access to DNA testing when it can prove innocence (Massachusetts and Oklahoma are the other two). When the Innocence Project was founded in 1992, not a single state had a DNA access law; today 47 states have one. We have come so far, and with your help we can ensure that the right to DNA testing is extended to every prisoner with a valid claim of innocence.
Osborne was convicted in Alaska of a 1993 rape he says he did not commit. For years, he sought DNA testing in the case, but the state of Alaska refused. Because Alaska has no law granting access to DNA testing and because it is the only state in the nation with no known case of a prisoner getting DNA testing, either through court order or a prosecutor’s consent, Osborne turned to federal court. It was his last hope.
In its ruling today, the Supreme Court said state courts and state legislatures should decide whether people can get DNA testing. Importantly, the Supreme Court did not completely deny that there is a right to DNA testing but it did rule that Osborne’s rights were not violated when he was denied testing. You can learn more about the ruling and Osborne’s case at our web resource center.
The ruling will not affect that vast majority of prisoners who seek DNA testing, since nearly all of the 240 people nationwide who have been exonerated got DNA testing through the consent of a prosecutor or a ruling in state court. The Innocence Project has more than 250 active clients right now and thousands of cases in evaluation and we will continue securing DNA testing in our cases through state courts and the consent of prosecutors, as we’ve done for the last 17 years.
But for the small number of people who will be affected — people like William Osborne, with nowhere else to turn but federal courts — the ruling could be devastating. That’s why we need your help today.
The Innocence Project