Supreme Court Hears Arguments in DNA Innocence Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in the William Osborne case. Osborne was convicted of rape in Alaska and alleges new DNA technology would prove he is factually innocent.

Alaska is one of several states that refuses to allow inmates to obtain DNA testing to prove innocence.

The Obama administration has taken Alaska’s side in arguing that Osborne has no right to access the biological evidence obtained in 1994, even if he pays for it. Today’s advanced tests could establish a match with a certainty of one in a billion. Former FBI Director William Sessions explains why Obama is wrong on this one. [More...]

As has been said many times, the Justice Department's mission is to do justice. It is not to seek a conviction—or to uphold one—at all costs.

What interest does Alaska have in denying Osborne access to this evidence, thus obscuring the truth?

To date, the Innocence Project says DNA has established the factual innocence of 232 inmates. The other states that don't allow testing: Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota. In some states, it's only available to death row inmates.

The New York Times has an editorial today on the right to DNA evidence.

DNA does not just free the innocent. It also helps capture the guilty. As the Times says,

In criminal law, there is a value in finality of verdicts — of not allowing prisoners to endlessly challenge their convictions. But when DNA is available that can prove that someone is wrongly being kept behind bars, due process requires the state to allow the testing to occur.

Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld argued the case for Osborne. The transcripts will be available this afternoon. Their resource page on the case is here.

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    oh, that wily progressive, (5.00 / 8) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 11:26:08 AM EST
    barack obama!

    finality has its place. when the legal process becomes more important than the truth, that's the wrong place.

    perhaps those states arguing against allowing DNA testing, beyond the closing of statutes, have what they consider valid arguments. finality seems to be the predominate one, trumping actual justice.

    clearly, reviewing old evidence, previously examined, for which no new information can be gleaned, is a frivolous exercise, and shouldn't be allowed. new, relevant evidence, not previously available, or old evidence from which new information can be gleaned, should be allowed, regardless of the time elapsed from conviction.

    it's the "just" thing to do.

    one gets the impression (perhaps unfairly) this is less a desire for "finality", than a fear of exposure, by the state.

    i could be wrong.

    Sessions is right. It's not (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by oldpro on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 11:29:41 AM EST
    justice and it sure are Hell isn't change any Democrat worth their salt can believe in.

    Holder should be fired over this.

    wow (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by CST on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 11:40:44 AM EST
    Alaska, Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota

    One of these things is not like the others...

    Very disappointed in my state.  And very confused as to why it is on this list.

    Do we know what the argument is for refusing it?  I can't think of anything that makes sense.  Except maybe $$ - which is a very wrong reason...

    From what I was reading (none / 0) (#6)
    by jbindc on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 12:17:29 PM EST
    Basically the petitioners (the State of Alaska) are saying that the leading case that the 9th Circuit relied on, Brady v. Maryland does not speak to, nor apply to, post-conviction access to the evidence. They argue that the 9th Circuit created another constitutional right to evidence that does not exist.

    One thing for sure.... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 12:10:29 PM EST
    Obama is a statist, of course he will side with the state over the people, over justice, over liberty.  

    Sad but not surprising.

    Having a lot of (mis-prosecuted) cases (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by tokin librul on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 12:35:37 PM EST
    come up for RE-EXAMINATION is gonna reveal a LOT about the mal- and misfeasances of the 'legal/judicial' system which the States, in which the most egregious excesses have taken place, is not gonna go over well with the "lawnorder" folks.

    The State presses cases it thinks it can win. It doesn't care HOW it wins those cases, especially when 'victims' are of the 'majority' class and the defendant is not. Prosecuting "undesireables" is how the people in power stay in power.

    So States--and the most powerful people in them-- have a lot riding on a kind of evidentiary 'stare decisis.'

    Link w/i link says traditionally (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 12:14:14 PM EST
    the new administration doesn't change position on cases on which previous administration has already staked out a position.

    Also, has Osborne already obtained DNA testing of the semen sample?  Hard to tell from the links.  

    AP article about the oral argument (none / 0) (#7)
    by oculus on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 12:24:32 PM EST
    and the case:


    K-dog, ol pal, sez (none / 0) (#9)
    by tokin librul on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 12:38:34 PM EST
    "Obama is a statist, of course he will side with the state over the people, over justice, over liberty.  

    Sad but not surprising."

    Of course he is. He's safe as houses. Nobody wh was not a confirmed, convincing statist could ever secure the nomination of a MAJOR party in the US.

    You think the Owners are gonna turn the sysem over to anybody who might undo even the least of their advantages?


    This is great genetic privacy could be in sight. (none / 0) (#10)
    by joze46 on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 01:30:43 PM EST
    For me, when the Supreme Court stopped the vote in Florida in 2000. Respect for their Judgement eroded to the point of total distrust being in the pocket of special interest. With that said perhaps they, those members that voted to stop the election count, should be impeached for that action let alone many others.  

    In this case, and only a hunch from me, this could be a Genetic privacy law that is transforming behind the scenes. Figuring all the wire tapping and snooping going on plus this guy Sessions is from Texas the premier state of corruption in America only surpassed by Bush himself is the greatest collection of miss managed justice in our country. Actually if the electorate got a chance to read Charles Lewis book " The buying of the President 2004" in who really bank rolled Bush one would find long and deep connections to Ken lay which have been totally oppressed from the media. Whats really funny is Bush's money raising shenanigans make Blagojevich look like a boy scout.

    Let alone alien fraud, drug scandals, Iraq scandals, where by some accounts Texas has supplied two thirds goods and material for the Iraq war through the gulf port to Dubi. Likely huge money laundering with the aid of the Arabs. For me this guy Sessions is up to his hips in corruption and knowledge of it.

    Do a little Google especially in terms of basis of Generic information in Texas there is some special stuff. I am not a legal person but the whole is bigger than just this one convicted person in Alaska. Now, another hunch here America is being   "Terry Schiavoed" by the Supreme Court and the Republican Panliology.  

    What the hell is a "panliology"? (none / 0) (#11)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 01:53:12 PM EST
    Huh? (none / 0) (#12)
    by txpublicdefender on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 03:11:50 PM EST

    What is behind your attack on Sessions?  He is arguing that the government is WRONG in denying DNA testing in this case, and in other cases where the testing could prove someone is wrongfully convicted.


    I must admit (none / 0) (#13)
    by lentinel on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 06:06:32 PM EST
    I don't get what motivation Obama might have for denying someone the right to obtain potentially exculpatory evidence.
    What would he or his administration or the justice system or anybody have to lose if a defendant was able to clear him/herself by providing DNA evidence of innocence?

    Has it become like traffic tickets - a quota for convictions?

    a fine line (none / 0) (#14)
    by txpublicdefender on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 06:36:58 PM EST
    Maybe this is legal hair splitting to some, but I read the transcript of the arguments and I did not see the lawyer for the US saying that people should be denied access to DNA evidence.  Rather, he seemed to be saying that recognizing it as a constitutional right would essentially mess with all the state laws and the federal law that do allow for testing provided the defendant meets the requirements of the law.  

    The problem for this guy is that Alaska has no statutory procedure.


    But (none / 0) (#15)
    by lentinel on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 06:56:33 PM EST
    why should the U.S. not take the side of those that claim that a defendant's right to exculpatory evidence is constitutionally protected?

    How would this mess with States that have laws on the books guaranteeing this right to defendants? It would seem to me that it would only mess with states like Alaska that are trying to prohibit people from adequately defending themselves.


    Having read the transcript ... (none / 0) (#16)
    by Peter G on Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 09:22:31 PM EST
    the federal government's position was basically to defend the constitutionality of the federal Innocence Protection Act, 18 USC 3600, and to say it gives a sufficient protection. The Solicitor General of the US is obligated to defend the constitutionality of all federal statutes before the Supreme Court if any reasonable argument can be made, not just to argue the policy that the current President would prefer.  Professor Katyal (arguing for the DOJ) did not take an extreme position and argue that an innocent person should stay in prison just because a jury convicted him after a fair-enough trial, or anything like that. The Atty General of Alaska came off as slippery and tricky, and I don't think the S.Ct. justices liked his less-than-forthright approach.  Peter Neufeld, of the Innocence Project, had a lot more to say than the Justices gave him time for.  Some of the Justices seemed concerned about defendants "gaming the system" -- but Prof. Neufeld did a good job, I thought, of showing that "gaming" (declining a test at one point for some tactical reason, then seeking it later) never worked to a guilty person's benefit.