The Supreme Court will reconsider the rules for permitting appeals by death row inmates who claim they have been wrongly convicted, reports the Waashington Post. The court agreed to hear in the 2005-6 term the case of a Tennessee death row inmate who says DNA evidence proves he did not commit the crime of which he was found guilty in 1985. Paul House is seeking release from death row because of what his appeal to the court calls “powerful new evidence of innocence.”
He says DNA tests show that the semen found on a murder victim’s clothes belonged to her husband and not to House, as a jury found 20 years ago. The issue before the high court is how strong his case for innocence must be to win a new hearing in federal court. The court has never quite said it is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person. In 1993, the court, in a 5 to 4 opinion written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, said that Leonel Torres Herrera had no right to reopen his case 10 years after conviction, based solely on a claim of new proof of innocence. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy joined that opinion with the proviso that they saw little doubt of Herrera’s guilt.