District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne
At SCOTUS Blog, Lyle Denniston had this initial report.
In the new DNA evidence case, District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne (08-6), an implied question is whether an inmate has a right under the Fourteenth Amendment, after conviction, to seek that type of evidence when the right is based upon the Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland, requiring prosecutors to turn over evidence that would help the accused’s defense.
The Ninth Circuit Court relied upon Brady in ruling that an Alaska inmate may sue under the 19th Century civil rights law, so-called Section 1983, to discover evidence in the government’s possession in advance of filing a free-standing claim of innocence that would rely, at least in part, upon that evidence. The case involves William G. Osborne of Anchorage, who was convicted of kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree assault, and sentenced to 25 years in prison with five years suspended. At Osborne’s trial, his defense lawyer made a strategic decision not to seek additional DNA testing of biological evidence found near the scene of the assault. After his conviction, he began pursuing a post-conviction plea for access to that evidence. If the results turned out to be favorable, he planned to file a claim of innocence in federal court.
The appeal by prosecutors contends that the Brady decision created a right of access to evidence only at the trial stage, not in a post-conviction proceeding, and contended that there is no right to pursue a free-standing claim of innocence following a trial that was free of errors.
"Justices Agree to Consider DNA Case," is Adam Liptak's Tuesday report in the New York Times.
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether people convicted of crimes have a constitutional right to test DNA evidence that could prove their innocence.
The case pits the value of finality in criminal cases against the possibility of proving an inmate’s innocence long after trials and appeals are concluded.
In April, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ordered prosecutors in Alaska to turn over DNA evidence that had been used to convict William G. Osborne of kidnapping and raping a prostitute. The appeals court said that biological evidence — hairs and semen — could be subjected to more sophisticated DNA testing than had been used by the prosecution to implicate Mr. Osborne.
Prosecutors in Alaska, in their brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, No. 08-6, said the appeals court had “created from whole cloth” a constitutional right of post-conviction access to DNA evidence. The prosecutors added that the court had made a separate mistake in allowing a right of access to be pursued even if a conviction was not being challenged in a pending case.
"Court to decide on convict's right to DNA test," is the AP report via the Boston Herald.
Osborne admitted his guilt under oath to the parole board in 2004. Another man also convicted in the attack has repeatedly identified Osborne as having participated in the crimes. The testing would be done on a condom and hairs found by investigators.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, said Osborne has a right to subject the evidence to advanced DNA testing that was not available at the time of his trial.
Forty-three states and the federal government have laws that give convicts access to DNA testing, but Alaska does not.
Osborne urged the court to reject the appeal, saying that because so many states have laws on the topic, it rarely arises in federal court.
Prosecutors argued that even if testing determines that the hairs and sperm are not Osborne’s, other evidence introduced at his trial is sufficient to leave his conviction in place. That matter is not before the high court.