Saturday, June 20, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Constitutional Right To DNA Testing

Another sad day for American justice, as a narrow 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court holds that the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment does not guarantee prisoners access to potentially-exonerating, post-conviction DNA testing:
[Chief Justice John] Roberts, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., said ..."A criminal defendant proved guilty after a fair trial does not have the same liberty interests as a free man," he wrote, and thus states have more "flexibility" in deciding procedures for post-conviction relief.
...The "challenges DNA technology poses to our criminal justice systems and our traditional notions of finality" are better left to elected officials than federal judges, Roberts wrote for the majority in a 5 to 4 decision.
The compelling dissenting argument of the Court's moderate wing held little sway with the majority:

Dissenting justices, led by John Paul Stevens, said the right to post-conviction DNA testing should not depend on the widely varying laws enacted by the states. Allowing a prisoner to test DNA evidence at his own expense would "ascertain the truth once and for all," Stevens wrote.

"On the record before us, there is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done," he wrote. He was joined in dissent by Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

The full, Washington Post article is here

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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