News Columns & Blogs

Inmates get new way to seek DNA testing

The U.S. Supreme Court gave inmates another way to challenge rulings preventing the testing of evidence that might prove their innocence.

In a 6-3 ruling Monday the high court said inmates have to right to sue for civil rights violations in federal court, if they are denied DNA testing on the state level. The case involved Henry “Hank” Skinner, a death row inmate in Texas.

Skinner filed a federal suit against the prosecutor who withheld the evidence and argued against its testing. But Skinner’s case had been thrown out by lower courts. The Supreme Court said his suit should proceed.

It doesn’t mean Skinner will win, but it gives inmates seeking to prove their innocence another way to get access to evidence. While 48 states, including Kansas, have laws allowing such testing, many requests are not granted by narrow readings of the law.

In Kansas, many are summarily dismissed.

Monday’s Supreme Court could also influence how hard prosecutors fight against providing such evidence, said Rebecca Woodman, adjunct law professor at the Washburn Law School.

“Allowing prisoners to maintain an independent civil rights action to vindicate their due process rights lessens the ability of prosecutors to hide behind procedural rules,” she said.

See previous posts in this series