Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said only a very narrow window is available to defendants seeking access to evidence for DNA testing post-conviction. The ruling had a limited impact because 48 states have enacted laws that provide for access in some circumstances. Today, reports NPR, the high court hears the next round in the DNA drama – a case testing whether the Texas statute is so limited that it denies a defendant due process of law.
Hank Skinner was 45 minutes away from execution when the Supreme Court granted a stay to hear his case. He was sentenced to die for murdering his girlfriend and her two adult, developmentally disabled children. The prosecution tested some but not all of the evidence at the crime scene, and at trial 16 years ago, Skinner’s lawyer did not seek further DNA testing. The defense argued that Skinner was so drunk he could not have committed three murders that required both strength and dexterity. By 2001, Skinner had new lawyers, and when Texas passed a law providing for access to evidence for DNA testing, they tried to use the law to prove someone else committed the crime. The lawyers wanted to be able to test evidence at the crime scene not tested before – evidence that they contended would prove Skinner was not the murderer and that the victim’s uncle was. Courts refused the request to allow more DNA testing. They ruled that Skinner had made a strategic decision not to ask for access to the evidence for more testing, and that he was not entitled to a second bite at the apple.