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I won my supreme court case (simulation): "Justices Rule Inmates Don’t Have Right to DNA Tests " [View All]

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armyowalgreens Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-23-09 04:59 AM
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I won my supreme court case (simulation): "Justices Rule Inmates Don’t Have Right to DNA Tests "
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Here's a little background on the case (District Attorney's Office v. Osborne) that actually went to the SCOTUS in June. The court sided with the DA (my side). I'm not particularly proud. It seems that Mr. Osborne lost by technicality. It also seems as though he had some poor representation in court over the years. My teams simulation DA brief is below. Our simulation was held in May, in anticipation of the actual case.

Background
June 19, 2009
Justices Rule Inmates Don’t Have Right to DNA Tests
By DAVID STOUT
WASHINGTON — Convicts do not have a right under the Constitution to obtain DNA testing to try to prove their innocence after being found guilty, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the court found against William G. Osborne, a convicted rapist from Alaska. But the decision does not necessarily mean that many innocent prisoners will languish in their cells without access to DNA testing, since Alaska is one of only a few states without a law granting convicts at least some access to the new technology.

“DNA testing has an unparalleled ability both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty,” the majority conceded, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “The availability of new DNA testing, however, cannot mean that every criminal conviction, or even every conviction involving biological evidence, is suddenly in doubt.”

In addition, the majority reasoned, it is not so much up to the federal courts as it is to the state legislatures to establish rules “to harness DNA’s power to prove innocence without unnecessarily overthrowing the established criminal justice system.”

The majority appeared to have been influenced by the fact that 46 states and the federal government have enacted laws that allow some inmates access to DNA testing, and there is nothing to prevent the remaining states from changing their laws. In addition to Alaska, Alabama, Massachusetts and Oklahoma do not explicitly allow the testing.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissent expressing his dismay that the majority had chosen to approve of Alaska’s denial of the evidence sought by the defendant. “The DNA test Osborne seeks is a simple one, its cost modest, and its results uniquely precise,” Justice Stevens said.

Since 1992, 238 people in the United States, some who were sitting on death row, have been exonerated of crimes through DNA testing. In many of those cases, the DNA testing used to clear them was not available at the time of the crime.

But several aspects of the Osborne case did not make the defendant a sympathetic one, so perhaps his case was not the ideal vehicle for those hoping that the nation’s highest court would find a constitutional right to “post-conviction” DNA testing — that is, after the normal appeals have been exhausted.

The victim in the Osborne case was a prostitute who was raped, beaten with an ax handle, shot in the head and left in a snow bank near Anchorage International Airport in 1993. She recalled that a condom was used in the assault against her, and one was found near the scene. An ax handle similar to the one used to club the victim was found in the defendant’s room.

The victim identified Mr. Osborne as one of her assailants, and he was also incriminated by another man who was found guilty in the attack.

Moreover, Mr. Osborne later confessed to the Alaska parole board, which released him after he had served 14 years of a 26-year prison term for kidnapping, assault and sexual assault. Later, the defendant said he confessed not because he was guilty, but in the hope of getting out of prison sooner. After his parole Mr. Osborne was convicted of a home invasion and is awaiting sentence for that crime.

Thursday’s ruling in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, No. 08-6, reversed a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Joining Chief Justice Roberts in the majority were Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The dissenters, besides Justice Stevens, were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and David H. Souter.

A paradox in the case, at least to a layman, is the fact that Mr. Osborne’s lawyer at the time of the trial declined to pursue the most advanced DNA testing available — for fear, she acknowledged later, that it would prove his guilt.

Even though the latest DNA testing could establish whether the defendant raped the prostitute, attorneys on both sides have sometimes spoken ambiguously, or at least without iron-clad clarity.

When the case was argued on March 2, Kenneth M. Rosenstein, an assistant state attorney general, said that an Alaska law governing post-conviction relief could allow Mr. Osborne access to DNA evidence if he would swear to his innocence.

But would he?

“I assume he certainly would,” said his lawyer, Peter Neufeld.

But Mr. Rosenstein declined to say whether the state would resist the defendant even if he did so swear.

Justice Scalia said he was struck by the absence of a full-throated declaration of innocence from the defendant, and quoted from a sworn statement Mr. Osborne had submitted to the state courts: “I have no doubt whatsoever that retesting of the condom will prove once and for all time...”

Here, Justice Scalia observed, a listener would expect to hear the words “my innocence.” But the defendant did not say that, saying instead “either my guilt or innocence.”

Mr. Neufeld, a co-founder of The Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted prisoners, issued a statement on Thursday calling the ruling “deeply flawed and disappointing,” but predicting that it may not have wide effect.

“Most people who need DNA testing to prove their innocence will not be affected by today’s ruling, but the small number of people who are impacted may suffer greatly,” he Neufeld said. “As a result of this decision, more innocent people will languish in prison and some may die in prison because they were prevented from proving their innocence.”

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also issued a statement expressing disappointment,

“We should make every effort to promote DNA testing in our criminal justice system — whether before or after trial — in order to help ensure that only the guilty are convicted, never the innocent, and that the guilty do not walk free to commit more crimes,” said Mr. Leahy, a former prosecutor.


In the simulation, the DA argument team was made up of 5 members, including myself. I was a partial researcher and the briefs composer.

Mock DA brief
« United States Supreme Court »
Case Briefing
District Attorney's Office v. Osborne, Docket No. 08-6
District Attorney's Argument Team



Members: AJ S******
Michael Karger
Devin C****
LeeAnn Di****
Whitney K****

Background:

William Osborne was charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, and physical assault. He had the assistance of a competent lawyer who made a reasonable strategic decision to forgo independent DNA testing of the state's biological evidence. He was convicted after an error-free trial. Now, years later, Osborne has filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking access to the biological evidence for purposes of new DNA testing.

Relevant Constitutional and Statutory Provisions:

14th amendment: no state shall…deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

USC § 1983: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

Relevant Cases: Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)
Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973).

Questions:

1.
May Osborne use § 1983 as a discovery device for obtaining post conviction access to the state's biological evidence when he has no pending substantive claim for which that evidence would be material?
2.
Does Osborne have a right under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause to obtain post conviction access to the state's biological evidence when the claim he intends to assert - a freestanding claim of innocence - is not legally cognizable?

Argument:

There are multiple factors in Osborne's case that debases his argument. The major issues are the misapplications of 42 USC §1983 and the 14th amendment.

In order to state a claim under USC § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that such violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law.

In previous actions taken by Osborne, the courts have ruled that Osborne's trial was speedy and fair. They found that Osborne's original lawyer had effectively defended their client. In this light, Osborne has no effective method to claim that his rights were violated. (Alaska Court of Appeals, Pet. App. 92a.)

Osborne should have presented evidence that his rights had been violated in his original conviction. Instead, Osborne asserted that the District Attorney’s
refusal to produce the evidence violated: (1) his due-process right of access to evidence, citing Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); (2) his due-process right to have “the opportunity to make a conclusive showing that he is actually innocent”; (3) his right against cruel and unusual punishment by denying him the opportunity to prove his innocence; (4) “his right to a fair executive clemency proceeding where he can make a showing of actual innocence”; (5) his right to confrontation and compulsory process by depriving him of his right to prove his innocence in state and federal court and before the Alaska Parole Board; and (6) his right to meaningful access to state and federal court to establish his actual innocence. J.A. 37-39. Osborne thus implied that he intended to use the evidence to prove his innocence not in the § 1983 action itself but in other federal and state proceedings.

Secondly, Osborne has no right to use the 14th amendment as a means to obtain the DNA evidence. Lower court decisions have stated that Osborne's conviction came from a speedy and fair trial. Accordingly, Osborne's right to life, liberty and property was taken through due process of law. There was no unlawful action taken by the state.

Where as the application of Habeas Corpus (seen in Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475,
500 (1973)) could have been an effective defense for Osborne, Osborne instead misapplied USC § 1983 and the 14th amendment.

Argument Summary:

Osborne's claim, that USC §1983 and the 14th amendment effectively prove that he should be allowed access to DNA evidence, is moot. He cannot claim compensation for unlawful action taken by the state because courts have proven lawful action on the states part. Accordingly, he was never denied a speedy and fair trial and therefore cannot claim that rights were removed without due process of law.



Source Citation:

USA. Third Judicial District. District Attorney. BRIEF FOR PETITIONERS. By Adrienne Bachman. American Bar Association. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://www.abanet.org/publiced/preview/briefs/pdfs/07-0... >

Legal Information Institute at Cornell University. US Code Collection.
<http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/42/1983.html >


Here is a full explanation of the real courts opinion:http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=...

I haven't been able to read it yet.


I'm not sure how accurate my teams argument was compared to the actual DA teams argument. But if it is accurate, the title of the above article is slightly inaccurate. The court did not rule that inmates do not have access to DNA evidence. It ruled on a technicality that may or may not have restricted Mr. Osborne from accessing DNA evidence.

I do hope that Mr.Osborne attempts to gain access to DNA evidence through some other legal argument. He certainly has an argument to make.




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