Several of the 200 people who have been freed because DNA tests performed after their convictions showed they could not have committed the crimes have joined civil rights groups, some current and former prosecutors, and a convicted Alaskan rapist in urging the Supreme Court to apply constitutional protections for the first time to what the prisoners’ lawyers call “arguably the most important development in the history of forensic science: the advent of DNA testing,” reports the Washington Post. They are opposed by victims rights groups; the vast majority of states, which have a patchwork of laws granting DNA access; and the federal government. The governments say that creating a constitutional right to the testing would infringe on states’ rights, overwhelm them with frivolous demands, and create an endless right of appeal.
On Mar. 2, the Supreme Court will hear its first case that confronts the dilemma of how to deal with DNA evidence, which former attorney general John Ashcroft called the “truth machine of law enforcement.” The Innocence Project, representing convicted Alaskan rapist William Osborne in the Supreme Court case, says that DNA evidence has helped exonerate 232 prisoners, 17 of whom had been sentenced to death. Osborne was convicted of the brutal rape and assault of a prostitute in a secluded area near the Anchorage International Airport in 1993.