The NY Times editors are so vexed by what they see as the latest blatant injustice from the Roberts Court that they can't be bothered to read the court's opinion or their own coverage of the case (Matt Yglesias keeps them company). Let's cut to the NY Times editors:
In an appalling 5-to-4 ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority tossed aside compelling due process claims, the demands of justice and a considered decision by a lower federal appeals court to deny the right of prisoners to obtain post-conviction DNA testing that might prove their innocence.
The inmate at the center of the case, William G. Osborne, is in prison in Alaska after a 1994 rape conviction based in part on a DNA test of semen from a condom recovered at the scene.
Clang! The inmate is in prison, all right, but for a conviction in a different crime following his release on parole in 2007 for this rape. From the Times news report:
Back to the Times editors for more bleating:
Well, his intent was to roll the bones, figuring he had nothing to lose except the expense of the test. Osborne had already passed on a more detailed test at the time of his trial, as the Times explains:
Rudimentary DNA testing on the condom in preparation for trial excluded two other suspects and included Mr. Osborne among those who might have committed the crime. The kind of testing used at the time, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “generally cannot narrow the perpetrator down to less than 5 percent of the population.”
The defense strategy is presented in more detail in the opinion:
It seems that sample size was not a problem, so the RFLP test available in 1993 would have been definitive.
As a matter of public policy, there is a legitimate question of how best to chivvy the states along as they legislate access to what amounts to new evidence made available by advances in technology. However, as the WaPo explains, this was an awkward case on which prisoner's rights advocates chose to hang their hats, since the prisoner is almost surely guilty:
More of the case details are available in the opinion:
K. G. did not die; the bullet had only grazed her head. Once the two men left, she found her way back to the road, and flagged down a passing car to take her home. Ultimately, she received medical care and spoke to the police. At the scene of the crime, the police recovered a spent shell casing, the axe handle, some of K. G.'s clothing stained with blood, and the blue condom. Jackson v. State, No. A-5276 etc. (Alaska App., Feb. 7, 1996), App. to Pet. for Cert. 117a.
Six days later, two military police officers at Fort Richardson pulled over Dexter Jackson for flashing his headlights at another vehicle. In his car they discovered a gun (which matched the shell casing), as well as several items K. G. had been carrying the night of the attack. Id., at 116a, 118a-119a. The car also matched the description K. G. had given to the police. Jackson admitted that he had been the driver during the rape and assault, and told the police that William Osborne had been his passenger. 521 F. 3d, at 1122-1123; 423 F. 3d 1050, 1051-1052 (CA9 2005); Osborne v. State, 110 P. 3d 986, 990 (Alaska App. 2005) (Osborne I). Other evidence also implicated Osborne. K. G. picked out his photograph (with some uncertainty) and at trial she identified Osborne as her attacker. Other witnesses testified that shortly before the crime, Osborne had called Jackson from an arcade, and then driven off with him. An axe handle similar to the one at the scene of the crime was found in Osborne's room on the military base where he lived.
Hence the defense attorney's desire to steer away from a more conclusive DNA test and aim for a "mistaken identity, cross-racial identification case", which in this scenario would have amounted to, all black guys look alike to white folks.
Let's leave the last laugh for Matt Y:
Here’s a beaut of a decision from the increasingly brutal and inhumane conservative-dominated Supreme Court. Not content with gutting anti-discrimination legislation, a 5-4 majority has decided that if people are wrongfully convicted they should be punished anyway because, hey, tough on crime!
...The predominant thinking of Alaska in this case seems to be that the punishment of the innocent works as a close substitute for the punishment of the guilty, so that given the heinous nature of the crime the state has a strong interest in convicting someone or other of it irrespective of the facts. This is exactly the sort of madness and injustice we rely on the judicial system to rescue us from. But not the new Roberts Court!
I am confident that the 5 justices in the majority are comfortable that the guilty have been punished.
MORE: The SCOTUS Blog has analysis:
Amid competing essays on the courts’ role in declaring constitutional meaning, a Supreme Court majority has handed off — as essentially a question for the political branches of government — the issue of when a convicted individual can get access to genetic evidence to try to prove innocence of the crime.
Access to evidence for DNA testing, however, is not guaranteed by anything in the Constitution, the Court majority concluded – at least when the individual has had a fair trial, and is seeking the evidence after the fact, to try to undo a conviction.
The majority opinion in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne (08-6) should not be misunderstood: it does not rule out entirely any access, in a criminal case, to genetic evidence for DNA testing. What it does do is narrow any legal foundation for such access, primarily by leaving it up to 50 state legislatures and Congress to craft rules to control access.