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supreme court rejects inmates’ rights to dna

June 19, 2009

While my opinion is that no innocent person should be incarcerated, and that we should make every effort to ensure their freedom if wrongly convicted, the recent Supreme Court ruling seriously undermines an inmate’s ability to challenge their incarceration and prove their innocence via new, more advanced DNA testing methods.

The 5-4 ruling denies that inmates have a constitutional right to DNA testing after their conviction and places the states in charge of setting their own policies concerning whether inmates can have access to post-conviction DNA testing or not. What this means is that if someone’s innocent and wrongfully imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit, and a new DNA test might clear them of any wrong doing, they have no constitutionally protected right to that biological evidence.

So states such as Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma that have no laws allowing post-conviction access to biological evidence can arbitrarily decide whether or not someone can have access to such evidence or new, more advanced testing methods. And the states that do have laws often place strict limits on who is eligible, so there’s no guarantee that inmates in those states will be able to exonerate themselves either.

As for the constitutionality of this issue, Amendment 6 states that “the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him” and “obtaining witnesses in his favor.” And this applies to physical evidence as well. So as far as I’m concerned, the right to, as Reuters puts it, “obtain access to a state’s biological evidence to conduct DNA testing when pursuing claims of innocence” should easily fall under this amendment.

In other words, I think it is a Constitutional issue and I agree with the dissenting justices that “the right to post-conviction DNA testing should not depend on the widely varying laws enacted by the states.” This has got to be one of the most disturbing rulings from the U. S. Supreme Court in recent memory. It’s absolutely unbelievable.

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