The Supreme Court pried open the courthouse door a crack for prisoners who after their convictions seek access to evidence for DNA testing, says NPR. By a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that prisoners have a right to use federal civil rights law to get such material. Texas leads the nation in the number of prisoners freed by DNA testing, with 41 DNA exonerations, but its state law imposes limits on such post-conviction testing. The Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday allowed prisoners to challenge those limits in federal court.
The court ruled in favor of Henry “Hank” Skinner, was 45 minutes away from execution last March when the high court granted a stay to hear his case. Outside Texas, barriers to inmate DNA testing have been tumbling down of late. Just last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated a provision in that state’s law that barred post-conviction testing in cases where the defendant had confessed. Prosecutors were dismayed by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association, says that “in the real world, people in prison have a lot of time on their hands” and “they now have an entire new avenue” to bring legal challenges.