Friday, June 19, 2009

The Law and the Truth: The Osborne Case

I knew I could look to Ed Brayton for a thoughtful analysis of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in the Osborne case, in which a 5-4 majority left to the whimsy of state legislatures whether, when, and how convicts can present DNA evidence establishing their actual guilt or innocence. The self-styled "conservatives" in the Supreme Court professed to find nothing contrary to Constitutional due process with that. Brayton:

Yesterday's court ruling in Osborne was simply one of the most absurd and appalling rulings I have ever read. Chief Justice Roberts should be ashamed of himself. Because of his ruling, innocent men are going to die in prison or via the death penalty. It really is that simple. What is absolutely shocking about the ruling is how utterly dishonest it is. Roberts is usually a careful judge who at least can state the legal issue accurately. In this ruling, his portrayal of the facts and legal questions in the case is one dishonest statement after another.
A little further down, by way of example, Brayton cites a shockingly obtuse passage from Roberts's opinion, then gives the obvious rejoinder:
[Roberts:] There is no long history of a right of access to state evidence for DNA testing that might prove innocence. "The mere novelty of such a claim is reason enough to doubt that 'substantive due process' sustains it."
[Brayton:]Of course there's no long history of a right to access DNA evidence for testing. You know why? Because we've only had DNA testing for a couple of decades.
I honestly do not understand the disdain for truth in matters of criminal guilt; it seems to me that getting it right should trump all. Imprisoning the innocent not only gravely injures the innocent party but entails that the actual criminal remains free to kill, rape, or abuse anew. Why anyone should consider this a good outcome for anyone -- victim, criminal, the incarcerated, the legitimacy of the legal system -- escapes me.

The Innocence Project, which represented the prisoner in this case, issued this statement:
The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said Osborne’s rights were not violated because of the specific facts of his case and Alaska’s procedures for post-conviction appeals. The decision erroneously asserts that Alaska has an adequate process for granting DNA testing to people who have been convicted. Alaska is the only state in the nation with no known case of a prisoner receiving DNA testing, either through a court order or a prosecutor’s consent.
The state of Alaska should do better than this, and so should the federal courts. Truth should matter.

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