Today, the Supreme Court ruled that convicted criminals do not have a constitutional right to possibly exculpatory DNA evidence. The Court decided District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne by a 5 – 4 margin. SCOTUSblog reports Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion:
The task of writing rules to control access to DNA evidence “belongs primarily” to the legislature, the Chief Justice wrote. Pursuing a “freestanding and far-reaching constitutional right of access” to DNA evidence through a civil rights lawsuit, Roberts wrote, would “short-circuit” efforts now being made by the federal government and many states to develop tools on access to such evidence. “There is no reason to constitutionalize” access through the courts when elected officials are making “a prompt and considered” response to the DNA phenomenon, the opinion concluded.
Anthony Zuiker is going to be pissed off. CSI: Rikers Island is going to have to go back to the drawing board.
The dissent after the jump.
Justice Stevens — a man’s whose un-dead DNA should be studied by scientists — wrote the dissent. The Wall Street Journal reports:
But Justice John Paul Stevens said in dissent that a simple test would settle the matter. “The court today blesses the state’s arbitrary denial of the evidence Osborne seeks,” Mr. Stevens said.
But it really seems like this whole case could have been avoided by some better lawyering on the part of Osborne’s attorney:
The woman in Alaska was raped, beaten with an ax handle, shot in the head and left for dead in a snow bank near Anchorage International Airport. The condom that was found nearby was used in the assault, the woman said.
The woman identified Mr. Osborne as one of her attackers. Another man also convicted in the attack has repeatedly incriminated him. Mr. Osborne himself described the assault in detail when he admitted his guilt under oath to the parole board in 2004.
Mr. Osborne’s lawyer passed up advanced DNA testing at the time of his trial, fearing it could conclusively link him to the crime. A less-refined test by the state showed that the semen didn’t belong to other suspects, but could be from Mr. Osborne, as well as about 15% of all African-American men.
Here’s tip to defense lawyers: get the DNA test. Don’t take my word for it, take a look at what Justice Alito and Justice Kennedy wrote:
In an opinion written by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., he and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy also said that, if a defense lawyer fails to seek DNA testing during trial, and does so for tactical reasons, there is no constitutional right to seek access following conviction.