Tuesday, March 8, 2011

SCOTUS: Inmate may use Federal Civil Rights Law for DNA Testing

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Texas inmate sentenced to die for killing his girlfriend and her two adult sons can ask to test crime-scene evidence he says may show he is innocent, reported the Associated Press.

Hank Skinner was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Twila Busby, 40, and her two sons, Elwin “Scooter’’ Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20. Skinner sued the district attorney seeking the right to perform genetic testing on evidence found at the scene of the triple slayings in a home in Pampa in the Texas Panhandle on New Year’s Eve 1993.

Edward Dawson, an attorney for District Attorney Lynn Switzer, whose office prosecuted Skinner’s capital murder case, said he was disappointed with the ruling but told the Associated Press that the ruling is "a pretty narrow decision on the procedural point.’’

“We think it left open the question of whether or not Skinner can actually get access to the evidence,’’ Dawson told the Associated Press. “I think there are some strong arguments that he ultimately may not be able to.’’

Like nearly every other state, Texas has a law that allows prisoners to have DNA testing on evidence long after their conviction. Skinner tried and failed twice to invoke the state law to get at the evidence. He then filed the federal lawsuit, saying that the state had deprived him of his rights.

Prosecutors have opposed the testing request, contending it would not prove anything, and branded the civil rights action an effort by Skinner to delay his punishment. He’s been on death row since 1995.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said inmates may use a federal civil rights law to seek DNA testing that was not performed before their conviction. The case now will be returned to a federal district court to consider whether Skinner’s claim has any merit.

To read more: http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2011/03/08/justices_side_with_inmate_on_death_row/

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