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November 3, 2008

Supreme Court takes up "right to DNA evidence" case

Though not dealing with a sentencing issue, the Supreme Court granted review today in a case that could have all sorts of ripples through prisoner rights' litigation. Here are the basics of the cert. grant from this SCOTUSblog post:

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether a state prison inmate may seek access to DNA evidence for use in pursuing a claim of innocence, by filing a civil rights claim after his trial is over....

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.

November 3, 2008 at 02:06 PM | Permalink


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The victim claims she was picked up around 9pm, but the defendant William G. Osborne is on tape at a video arcade “Space Station” at 9pm. Where was Mr. Osborne’s girlfriend (current wife) at the time of the incident? And why is Alaska so persistent in not testing his DNA? Sounds like the DNA is not the only thing that needs to be looked at again.

Posted by: Katrina | Feb 1, 2009 3:21:05 AM

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