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Justices Review Convict’s Rights to Access DNA Evidence

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a convicted rapist who wants access to trial evidence for additional DNA testing. The National Law Journal's Marcia Coyle details the arguments and what's at stake.

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    The use of DNA testing to prove innocence or guilt has become a widely accepted legal practice. But the state of Alaska has asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the Constitution guarantees a convict's right to have such a test.

    The court heard the arguments today, and Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal was there. She joins us now.

    Welcome, Marcia.

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    Thank you, Gwen.


    Perhaps I've been watching too many episode dramas on television, but it seemed to me that it was a slam-dunk that DNA testing was everybody's right.


    Well, it seems on the surface it would be a very logical thing, very fair thing to say that there is a right, but there are competing legal doctrines in tension here.

    You have the state's interest in finality of convictions. This is a state that doesn't have a DNA-testing statute. The state of Alaska argued today before the Supreme Court that it has the traditional habeas corpus procedure that this particular presenter could have used, but did not use, had never made a formal declaration that he was actually innocent, and so there was not to be a federal constitutional right to DNA testing, if this prisoner would not avail himself of what the state had to offer.