In District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne the Supreme Court confronted novel and complex constitutional questions regarding the postconviction protections offered to potentially innocent convicts. Two decades after DNA testing exonerated the first inmate in the U.S. the Court heard its first claim by a convict seeking DNA testing that could prove innocence. Despite language suggesting the Court would not “constitutionalize the issue” by announcing an unqualified freestanding right, Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion proceeded to carefully fashion an important, but qualified and derivative procedural due process right. While denying relief to Osborne for narrow factual and procedural reasons, the Court’s ruling swept more broadly. The Court held that states with post-conviction discovery rules, as almost all have enacted, may not arbitrarily deny access to post-conviction DNA testing, and then pointed to the generous provisions of the federal Innocence Protection Act as a model for an adequate statute. The Court also continued to assume that litigants may assert constitutional claims of actual innocence in habeas proceedings.
From Brandon L. Garrett (University of Virginia School of Law) has posted DNA and Due Process (Fordham Law Review Vol. 78, 2010) on SSRN.