CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, June 12, 2006

Supreme Court Expands DNA Evidence Permissibility During Post Conviction Appeals

From The Supreme Court today expanded the ability of death row inmates to challenge their convictions in federal courts based on DNA evidence produced long after their trials. The 5-3 ruling was the first by the high court to consider post-conviction appeals in the context of the evidentiary revolution produced by the new technology of DNA analysis.

Peter J. Neufeld, representing the Innocence Project, Inc., hailed the ruling as a breakthrough for similar cases involving DNA tests, noting that so far 180 convictions have been proven wrong based on post-conviction DNA analysis.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the court, said the lower court had placed too great a burden on the defendant. The court's function, he wrote, "is not to make an independent factual determination about what likely occurred, but rather to assess the likely impact of the evidence on reasonable jurors." Rather than requiring "absolute certainty" of innocence, Kennedy wrote, the defendant only needed to "demonstrate that more likely than not, in light of the new evidence, no reasonable juror would find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., dissented from the core holding of the court, and was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who had not yet joined the court when the case was argued, did not participate. More. . . [Mark Godsey]

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