Supreme Court Rules Against Constitutional Right to Access to DNA Testing

225px-official_roberts_cjIn a split 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. ruled that an individual cannot demanded access or testing to DNA material after his conviction becomes final in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne (08-6).

In 1994, William Osborne was convicted of kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree assault in Alaska. He was refused an opportunity to retest his DNA despite the fact that a less accurate and reliable test was used before this trial. He filed a federal lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing that the decision deprived him of his rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws — relying specifically on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The majority opinion below states:

DNA evidence will undoubtedly lead to changes in the criminal justice system. It has done so already. The question is whether further change will primarily be made by legislative revision and judicial interpretation of the existing system, or whether the Federal Judiciary must leap ahead—revising (or even discarding) the system by creating a new constitutional right and taking over responsibility for refining it.
Federal courts should not presume that state criminal procedures will be inadequate to deal with technological
change. The criminal justice system has historically accommodated new types of evidence, and is a time-tested
means of carrying out society’s interest in convicting the guilty while respecting individual rights. That system,
like any human endeavor, cannot be perfect. DNA evidence shows that it has not been. But there is no basis for Osborne’s approach of assuming that because DNA has shown that these procedures are not flawless, DNA evidence must be treated as categorically outside the process, rather than within it. That is precisely what his §1983 suit seeks to do, and that is the contention we reject.

Roberts uses a classic “slippery slope” argument:

Establishing a freestanding right to access DNA evidence for testing would force us to act as policymakers, and our substantive-due-process rulemaking authority would not only have to cover the right of access but a myriad of other issues. We would soon have to decide if there is a constitutional obligation to preserve forensic evidence that might later be tested. Cf. Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U. S. 51, 56–58 (1988). If so, for how long? Would it be different for different types of evidence? Would the State also have some obligation to gather such evidence in the first place? How much, and when? No doubt there would be a miscellany of other minor directives. See, e.g., Harvey v. Horan, 285 F. 3d 298, 300–301 (CA4 2002) (Wilkinson, C. rehearing).

Roberts expressly left the access to DNA as a legislative, not a constitutional, matter. Associate Samuel Alito wrote a concurrence with Anthony Kennedy that would have gone further to bar any claim for DNA being made as part of a civil rights lawsuit as opposed to a habeas case.

What is most striking is that this vote could have been 6-3 with the addition of Sonia Sotomayor, who has a very mixed record for civil libertarians, particularly in criminal and free speech cases. For a review of Sotomayor’s decisions click here.

Most states guarantee access but not Alaska. The current laws, however, are a patchwork of different standards. Alaska is one of only six states without any law guaranteeing such access and testing.

The opinion is below:
Opinion 08-6

For the oral argument in the case, click here.

51 thoughts on “Supreme Court Rules Against Constitutional Right to Access to DNA Testing”

  1. Good evening. The crowd gives the leader new strength. Help me! I find sites on the topic: Baby bedding collection. I found only this – lavender baby bedding. Bedding, very before a infinitly-variable selecting community history is present. Bedding, trained in the updates were 22 teeth. Best regards :-(, Yonina from Islands.

  2. Christoph,

    Are you sure your comment isn’t “awaiting moderation”?

    I posted a comment a couple of hours ago. I’m still “awaiting moderation”.

    I’ve never had a comment held before. Guess it may be something new or a wordpress glitch.

  3. “Also bringing Hitler into the discussion out of nowhere makes no sense. Mr.Byrne’s proffered rationale that it was done to illustrate that a leader without followers has no power, is I think highly unpersuasive as justification.”

    Mr. Spindell,

    Of the top 10 evil leaders in our world history, which one do you think Mr. Byrne should have selected to exemplify his position? Maximilien Robespierre? Ruhollah Khomeini? Leopold II of Belgium?
    How many of the readers of this blog are familiar with these leaders? Is it likely that Hitler would be the best illustrative selection based upon the public acceptance that he was the most evil leader of the twentieth century?

    It doesn’t really matter. Your argument is based on emotion, not logic. I have read, and re-read, Mr. Byrne’s post that has caused you discomfort. How pointing out that Obama may have been able to take advantage of his race, as stated in one paragraph, makes the Hitler (3 paragraphs later, and separated by argument concerning media bias) reference attributable to Obama is the stuff of pure fantasy, or a need to explore such a fantasy.

    There’s a reason that members of the armed forces can choose not to follow an unlawful order. In the U.S., that reason is the Supremacy Clause (Article 6) of our Constitution. If the service member chooses to follow the unlawful order they can be held personally responsible. (See Little v. Barreme, 6 U.S. 170 (1804))

    You’re fighting a battle that exists only in your mind. I hope you win.

  4. Mike S,

    You said; “CBS and NBC are not too “far left” and in fact are demonstrably right of center.

    Demonstrably? Base upon what? -Their ownership and corporate support for Reagan? How about the content of the news that they report? –If I tell everyone I know to vote for Obama, and provide numerous reasons to support my endorsement, but vote for McCain myself; Was the content of my message liberal or conservative?

    You consider the media to be conservatively bias. I consider FOX to be conservatively bias, and find CBS and NBC to be liberally bias. (I rarely watch ABC.)

    –You base your determination of bias on ownership and twenty year old support. I base my determination on what I have observed from the content of their reporting.

    You provided hyperlinks to liberal websites that (may) support your argument. (I say “may”, because you just provide a link to the website…not any article that provides specific support) Here! -I’ll give you some conservative sites that disagree. -And I’ll give you the courtesy of direct links to supporting argument.

    The majority of journalists admit they are liberal.

    I describe myself to be a moderate conservative. You describe yourself as a “leftist hippie”, and an “unreconstructed liberal”.

    Are any of your viewpoints considered to be aligned with those normally associated with conservatives? -I’m trying to establish your perspective.

    “BUSH (like Hitler)” is somehow attributed to my feelings about President Obama?? Because I have some sneaky clever agenda?

    I guess -The SPACE SHUTTLE (like the Appollo program)- must now be associated with hippies. -because I included them all in the same post. I’m a sneaky SOB.

    “I think that most people, whether they agree with me or not, would not accuse me of having “tunnel vision” politically.”
    But of course, what self-described leftist hippie, unreconstructed liberal could ever be accused of having political “tunnel vision”? Have you ever thought of working for NBC, CBS, or MSNBC?

    Is Keith Olbermann too liberal, not liberal enough, or perfect?
    –I see Limbaugh as too conservative.

    FFLEO -Watched “Media Malpractice” last night. –It’s worth viewing. Like many other political documentaries, they don’t do enough to support their claims with supporting evidence…which leaves me skeptical. A number of the claims presented have merit, while others are more, based on biased opinion.

    Obama was definitely the media darling. Was that because of the historical significance of the first African-America with a realistic chance of becoming POTUS? Quite possibly..and a reasonably ascertained. Did that turn into bias? –I everything that is stated in the documentary is true..then I believe so. –Like I said; I need to validate a large number of their claims.

    I intend to view it with some liberal friends. We’ll pause the movie and do some fact checking. –I’ll get back to you.

  5. “Mr. Spindell is an articulate man. Regrettably, his well-crafted assault is unwarranted and exhibits a modicum of paranoia.”

    You may think what you will of my points and ascribe to me paranoia. However, you do admit that my remarks were “well-crafted,” although what you characterize as “assault” I would characterize as rejoinder. Given this at least they were made clearly even if you do not find them persuasive. Be that as it may, I’ve reread the exchange between Mr. Byrne and myself and I stand by the reasoning I used and his lack of specific answers to the issues I raised. To wit: CBS and NBC are not too “far left” and in fact are demonstrably right of center. Also bringing Hitler into the discussion out of nowhere makes no sense. Mr.Byrne’s proffered rationale that it was done to illustrate that a leader without followers has no power, is I think highly unpersuasive as justification. Unless Mr. Byrne was being careless in his analogies, which his writing skill belies, he at least to me appears to be disingenuous.

    Finally, this statement from Mr. Byrne:

    “From the middle, I can see both left and right. From the far left, you can only see to the right.”

    Is totally belied by the body of writing that I’ve done on JT’s site. I think that most people, whether they agree with me or not, would not accuse me of having “tunnel vision”
    politically. Perhaps Mr.Byrne is as he says, but to me his deliberate word choices and characterizations, are exemplary
    of someone at pains to hide his true agenda. Only his future postings will show that and if their body shows that I’ve been precipitous in judgment, I will apologize

  6. This all has to do with the justice system protecting their convictions NO matter how shaky nor matter what else might come to light.

    I have had experience with the FEDERAL criminal justice system. In the states lawyers can “dance” and get some things done but the feds are impossible.

    I understand that this was a state case appiled to the federal Supreme Court. And that is where the game ENDS.

    If anyone ever thinks the feds will ever rule in sympathy with the “accussed” they’re dreaming. They will manipulate the Constitution to support ruling against the “defendant”. Even when the defendant raises a relevant issue on appeal they’ll just say it wouldn’t have made a difference.

    The feds will do anything to protect a conviction and that is partly what this is about. They have that attitude that if they crack the door open to one then all of a sudden everybody in jail is going to kick open the door. And that’s what they’re wary of too. They look down the road with suspicion of what a certain ruling might lead to. And if they think it may be advantageous to criminals looking to appeal their cases they’re going to do everything they can to twist the Constitution to fit there purposes.

    That’s what they certainly do with criminal cases anyway. Nothing is ever on the level. The deck is always stacked against the accussed

  7. Mr. Byrne has stated that he believes the color of Mr. Obama’s skin was contributory to his success in the 2008 election. Judging from the marked increase in African-American turnout on Election Day, when combine with the fact that Mr. Obama was not the first Democrat to run in an election, would indicate that Mr. Byrne’s assessment may have merit. Mr. Spindell did not challenge this conclusion.

    Review of Mr. Byrne’s posts is not demonstrative of any prior or current attacks on the President’s character. I really can’t blame him for refusing to participate in Mr. Spindell’s flight of the imagination.

    Mr. Spindell is an articulate man. Regrettably, his well-crafted assault is unwarranted and exhibits a modicum of paranoia. Following Mr. Spindell’s logic, any word may be coupled with any statement. In effect, anything can mean whatever Mr. Spindell wants it to mean. This is convenient for Mr. Spindell, but, overtly unfair to Mr. Byrne.

    I stepped in some dog poop today. Boy did it stink. I think I may have got some on the floor mat of my car, and I could still smell it when I had lunch at McDonalds.

    Mr. Spindell will likely determine that I was wanting to say that McDonalds smells like dog poop, but I was “sneaky”, “tricky” or “terminally disingenuous” because I didn’t word my statement in the way that would make it conform to what he “expected”.

    Nuff said indeed.

  8. “Mike, I had it with your insulting commentary. You’re an arogant …”

    My comment prior to this:

    “However, in your case I believe that you do not engage in an honest exchange of ideas, as illustrated by your posts and I prefer not to waste my time playing with the terminally disingenuous. There is a Rovian aroma emanating from your words.”

    Nuff said.

  9. Jim Byrne,

    Let us know your comments about Media Malpractice soon after your viewing. Thanks.

  10. FFLEO and Buddha,

    I’m always willing to engage in reasonable debate. However, I’m not interested in defending what Mike has decided I meant, based upon something that he has heard others say.

    Please review my comment from 1, June 18, 2009 at 10:06 pm, and tell me how a rational person can conclude that I presented a comparison of President Obama with Adolf Hitler. -I just don’t see it, and it was not my intent.

    I’m more than capable of making my point, and I’m not afraid to defend my position. -IF that is my position.

    If I wanted to compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler…I would do so. (If I had any information to support such a claim) Further, I would support my position with historical similarities relevant to such accusations.

    This evening, I intend to watch “Media Malpractice”. -I have know idea if the conclusions have merit, but I’ll make an “informed” decision after I watch it.

Comments are closed.