DNA Case: Innocent Convicts May Die In Prison


The Supreme Court decision that convicts do not have a constitutional right to DNA tests that might establish their innocence will have pernicious consequences, Peter Neufeld of The Innocence Proect, tells the New York Times. “It's unquestionable that some people in some states who are factually innocent will not get DNA testing and will languish in prison,” he said. “Some of them will die in prison.” Only four states – Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma – do not have laws dealing with postconviction DNA testing. Alabama recently enacted one limited to death row inmates that will become effective soon.

Many states that allow postconviction testing impose conditions on who may seek it. Prosecutors often fight hard to deny access to DNA evidence , saying the prisoner in question had not met the statutory conditions. Some laws do not allow prisoners who have confessed to seek DNA evidence, though false confessions have been common among exonerated inmates. Other states allow testing only if it was unavailable at the time of trial. In the case decided yesterday by the Supreme Court, William Osborne of Alaska sought to test biological evidence on a condom found at the crime scene, a snowbank near Anchorage International Airport. The victim was raped, beaten with an ax handle, shot in the head and left for dead. The bullet only grazed her head, and she survived.

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