U.S. Supreme Court Backs State on Post-Conviction DNA Tests
June 18, 2009
Anchorage, Alaska - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in an Alaska case that there is no federal constitutional right for a prisoner to have DNA tested after conviction.
The court's opinion, delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, rejects a claim by convicted rapist William Osborne that he was denied due process by the State of Alaska when he was barred from re-testing the contents of a condom that might have been used in a 1993 assault near Earthquake Park in Anchorage.
The court determined that procedures for dealing with post-conviction DNA testing should be decided at the state level, concluding that the procedures in place in Alaska adequately provide convicts an opportunity to seek DNA testing.
Assistant Attorney General Ken Rosenstein, who argued the case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in March, said that Osborne had not exhausted potential remedies in state courts before seeking to have a right to post-conviction DNA testing enshrined in the federal constitution. Rosenstein noted that Osborne did not avail himself of the most sophisticated DNA test at the time of his trial and that he had admitted guilt in a subsequent parole hearing.
"Mr. Osborne has been trying to game the system," Rosenstein said. "It's gratifying that the Supreme Court has deferred to the states on this issue. Convicted defendants may use Alaska's post-conviction relief statutes if they think additional DNA testing actually would establish their innocence."
Some news reports have mistakenly asserted that prisoners have no such rights in Alaska. In fact, at least one convict successfully used the post-conviction relief statute to obtain new DNA testing, which confirmed his guilt. In another case, the Superior Court in Alaska ordered post-conviction DNA testing, but it turned out that the evidence had not been preserved.
"In many ways, this case was as much about defending states' rights as it was about criminal DNA testing," said Attorney General Dan Sullivan. "The Department of Law's attorneys did a great job in handling this case all the way to the highest court in the land. Thanks to them, every state in the country has averted a situation in which any frivolous request for DNA testing would have to be granted."
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