Tuesday, March 3, 2009

High Court Considers Convicts' Rights to DNA Testing

This is great new:
An eye witness and a jailhouse snitch said he did it. But a man convicted 16 years ago of rape says he's in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
William Osborne says a DNA test would prove he's innocent. But the question is whether the DNA trumps all other evidence.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday on the case that could guarantee due process of law to convicts seeking evidence that could exonerate them.

When convicted of the brutal rape and kidnapping of a prostitute in 1993, Osborne said he didn't do it.
"It's extremely hard for me to sit here and hear all the accusations, charges that basically make me look like a monster," Osborne said at his sentencing hearing.
Osborne reportedly confessed to the rape during a parole hearing, but now says a condom found at the crime scene will prove his innocence.

"If there is biological material connected to the crime, which the State of Alaska has conceded, which if tested could prove him innocent -- it might also prove him certainly guilty. But it would show one way or another," said David Rudovsky, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who has represented several inmates freed after post-conviction DNA tests.
Prosecutors claim convicts aren't entitled to post-conviction DNA testing. But last year an appeals court ruled in Osborne's favor.
Nationwide, DNA tests have exonerated 232 convicts, including Dennis Fritz, who spent 12 years in prison.
"When someone's denied DNA testing, and finally after years and years they are granted testing and it proves that they are in fact innocent, that means that for all of those years there is someone else out there that was actually the perpetrator," Fritz said.

Osborne's attorney decided against examining the semen sample prior to his first trial, fearing it could conclusively link him to the crime.
Alaska is one of only six states that do not allow prisoners to petition for DNA testing. Attorneys for Alaska say prisoners don't have the right to old evidence.

"Now he's trying to play procedural games to get out of prison," said Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and former federal judge who spoke on behalf of victims' rights. "Osborne should be required to go through the normal process to get access to this kind of information -- he should have to file a habeas corpus petition. That way he would be respecting crime victims' rights."
The Innocence Project -- an organization that aims to help prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing -- is arguing the case on behalf of Osborne.

"Alaska has set up this mechanism that gives people the opportunity to prove their actual innocence, and yet it won't give them the one test, which is probably the only test, that would meet that quantum of evidence needed to prove your actual innocence," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project.
States that don't allow the testing fear a ruling against them will open the floodgates to prisoners making the request, with the states picking up the tab.

But the Innocence Project says that's not the case.
"It's not a key to open the door of the courthouse," said Bill Oberly, director of the Alaska Innocence Project. "There are very few people who have actual innocence claims."
The case before the Supreme Court could strengthen the rights of prisoners across the nation who may be innocent but still wait. The court expressed some skepticism about giving a broad constitutional right to convicts facing DNA testing.
But Justice David Souter says a person should be able to test claims of innocence.
Contact Ashton Goodell at

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Source KTUU.com Alaska's news and information source High court considers convicts' rights to DNA testing

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