Tuesday, March 10, 2009

LA Times asks for right to DNA testing in Osborne ruling

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial that began:

Contrary to what viewers of "CSI" might believe, not every criminal case can be resolved by DNA evidence. Even so, DNA testing has exonerated more than 200 convicted defendants. This week, the Supreme Court was asked to rule that access to DNA information is a constitutional right. The court must say yes.
Something that is at the heart of this matter is whether "a defendant convicted after a fair trial has a constitutional right to challenge that conviction on the grounds that he is innocent." It seems the answer ought to be yes. A mountain of procedure is in place that allows prisoners to challenge their sentence on technicalities or Constitutional violations, but they are in place as a means to securing a new trial, the object of which is to establish guilt or innocence. It seems to me that, if establishing guilt or innocence is the object of the criminal justice system – which it is – then it ought to be especially sensitive to claims of actual innocence, even after a jury has been convinced, and it is still extremely hard to obtain a new trial with "only" a claim of actual innocence.

Opening the flood gates is a serious concern in some circumstances, and the procedures in place were put in place to preempt just that possibility, by making sure that it's not every Tom, Dick and Harry that can make some noise to challenge their conviction. But, as the LA Times concludes, "The alternative is to say that a state may withhold evidence that could free a wrongly convicted person. That's an inconceivable interpretation of the Constitution's guarantee of due process of law."

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