Monthly Archives: June 2009

Quote Of The Day

Reason’s Jacob Sullum on Sonia Sotomayor:

This inconsistency is not exactly encouraging, but even if Sotomayor chooses sides by flipping a coin she might still turn out better (or at least no worse) than David Souter, and Obama easily could have chosen someone more consistently bad.

I don’t expect much good from Sotomayor, or would have from anyone Obama had selected. Obama does not have an interpretation of the Constitution that I support, and thus I would expect his judicial appointees to consider the limits the Constitution places on government just as “pliable” as he does.

So if she turns out to be better than I expect — an understandably low bar to be set — I’ll take it.

30,000th Comment

This evening, we had our 30,000th comment here on the Liberty Papers.

On behalf of all of us who post here, I’d like to thank you, our audience, for your feedback, arguments, discussions, and explanations.

You, our readers, are why we write.

Thanks for reading.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

SCOTUS: No Constitutional Right for DNA Testing Post-Conviction

Last week in District Attorney’s Office for the Third Judicial District et. al. v. Osborne the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that convicts have no Constitutional right to DNA testing even if such testing would conclusively determine the guilt or innocence of the convict. In this particular case, William Osborne was willing to pay for the DNA test at his own expense but the DA’s office refused to allow Osborne to have access to the sample. Roberts, writing for the court’s majority joined by Thomas, and Scalia, ruled against Osborne because of lack of legal precedents and that Osborne did not avail himself of the available evidence and technological advances at the time of trial. Alito with Kennedy joining wrote a concurring opinion in which Alito worried that allowing Osborne to have access to his DNA sample would flood the criminal justice system with demands that more DNA evidence be preserved. Both opinions stressed that the domain for making guidelines for DNA preservation and testing would better be handled by state legislatures rather than the federal courts.

First, some excerpts from Justice Roberts:

A criminal defendant proved guilty after a fair trial does not have the same liberty interests as a free man. At trial, the defendant is presumed innocent and may demand that the government prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. But “[o]nce a defendant has been afforded a fair trial and convicted of the offense for which he was charged, the presumption of innocence disappears.” Herrera v. Collins, 506 U. S. 390, 399 (1993). “Given a valid conviction, the criminal defendant has been constitutionally deprived of his liberty.” Dumschat, supra, at 464 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). (p. 15)

Osborne seeks access to state evidence so that he can apply new DNA-testing technology that might prove him innocent. There is no long history of such a right, and “[t]he mere novelty of such a claim is reason enough to doubt that ‘substantive due process’ sustains it.” Reno v. Flores, 507 U. S. 292, 303 (1993). (p. 19)

Establishing a freestanding right to access DNA evidence for testing would force us to act as policy makers, and our substantive-due-process rulemaking authority would not only have to cover the right of access but a myriad of other issues. We would soon have to decide if there is a constitutional obligation to preserve forensic evidence that might later be tested. Cf. Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U. S. 51, 56–58 (1988). If so, for how long? Would it be different for different types of evidence? Would the State also have some obligation to gather such evidence in the first place? How much, and when? No doubt there would be a miscellany of other minor directives. See, e.g., Harvey v. Horan, 285 F. 3d 298, 300–301 (CA4 2002) (Wilkinson, C. J., concurring in denial of rehearing).

In this case, the evidence has already been gathered and preserved, but if we extend substantive due process to this area, these questions would be before us in short order, and it is hard to imagine what tools federal courts would use to answer them. At the end of the day, there is no reason to suppose that their answers to these questions would be any better than those of state courts and legislatures, and good reason to suspect the opposite. See Collins, supra, at 125; Glucksberg, supra, at 720.” (p. 20 & 21)

I think Roberts is making this issue more complicated than necessary. As he points out, the evidence has been preserved. There is no need to get into “policy making” to say that the DA must allow Osborne access to the sample that the DA physically possesses. And even if the presumption of innocence disappears and the burden of proof falls on Osborne to prove his innocence, how can he possibly attempt to do so without having the sample?

Now an except from Alito:

Respondent was convicted for a brutal sexual assault. At trial, the defense declined to have DNA testing done on a semen sample found at the scene of the crime. Defense counsel explained that this decision was made based on fear that the testing would provide further evidence of respondent’s guilt. After conviction, in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain parole, respondent confessed in detail to the crime. Now, respondent claims that he has a federal constitutional right to test the sample and that he can go directly to federal court to obtain this relief without giving the Alaska courts a full opportunity to consider his claim […]


[E]ven though respondent did not exhaust his state remedies, his claim may be rejected on the merits, see §2254(b)(2), because a defendant who declines the opportunity to perform DNA testing at trial for tactical reasons has no constitutional right to perform such testing after conviction.” (p. 1 & 2)

Stevens in his dissent (joined by Ginsburg and Breyer; Souter filed a concurring opinion) responded to the majority opinion as follows:

The State of Alaska possesses physical evidence that, if tested, will conclusively establish whether respondent William Osborne committed rape and attempted murder. If he did, justice has been served by his conviction and sentence. If not, Osborne has needlessly spent decades behind bars while the true culprit has not been brought to justice. The DNA test Osborne seeks is a simple one, its cost modest, and its results uniquely precise. Yet for reasons the State has been unable or unwilling to articulate, it refuses to allow Osborne to test the evidence at his own expense and to thereby ascertain the truth once and for all. (p. 1)

The liberty protected by the Due Process Clause is not a creation of the Bill of Rights. Indeed, our Nation has long recognized that the liberty safeguarded by the Constitution has far deeper roots. See Declaration of Independence¶2 (holding it self-evident that “all men are. . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” among which are “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”);see also Meachum v. Fano, 427 U. S. 215, 230 (1976) (STEVENS, J., dissenting). The “most elemental” of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause is “the interest in being free from physical detention by one’s own government.” Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U. S. 507, 529 (2004) (plurality opinion); see Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U. S. 71, 80 (1992) (“Freedom from bodily restraint has always been at the core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause”).

Although a valid criminal conviction justifies punitive detention, it does not entirely eliminate the liberty interests of convicted persons. For while a prisoner’s “rights may be diminished by the needs and exigencies of the institutional environment[,] . . . [t]here is no iron curtain drawn between the Constitution and the prisons of this country.” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U. S. 539, 555–556 (1974); Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U. S. 223, 228–229 (2001) (“[I]ncarceration does not divest prisoners of all constitutional protections”). Our cases have recognized protected interests in a variety of post conviction contexts, extending substantive constitutional protections to state prisoners on the premise that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires States to respect certain fundamental liberties in the post conviction context. See, e.g., Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U. S. 401, 407 (p. 7 & 8)

Wow, if I didn’t know any better, I would think Stevens was of a libertarian or Lockean ideology because I think he is spot on in this case. There are times whenever “judicial activism” is necessary whenever state legislatures fail to uphold due process and other Constitutional protections.

Stevens continues:

The fact that nearly all the States have now recognized some post conviction right to DNA evidence makes it more, not less, appropriate to recognize a limited federal right to such evidence in cases where litigants are unfairly barred from obtaining relief in state court. (p. 9)

Throughout the course of state and federal litigation, the State has failed to provide any concrete reason for denying Osborne the DNA testing he seeks, and none is apparent. Because Osborne has offered to pay for the tests, cost is not a factor. And as the State now concedes, there is no reason to doubt that such testing would provide conclusive confirmation of Osborne’s guilt or revelation of his innocence.7 In the courts below, the State refused to provide an explanation for its refusal to permit testing of the evidence, see Brief for Respondent 33, and in this Court, its explanation has been, at best, unclear. Insofar as the State has articulated any reason at all, it appears to be a generalized interest in protecting the finality of the judgment of conviction from any possible future attacks. See Brief for Petitioners 18, 50.8 (p. 11)

In other words, if the state properly convicted the right person, what is the state so afraid of?

It seems to me obvious that if a wrongly convicted person were to produce proof of his actual innocence, no state interest would be sufficient to justify his continued punitive detention. If such proof can be readily obtained without imposing a significant burden on the State, a refusal to provide access to such evidence is wholly unjustified. (p. 13)

It’s really is too bad that Stevens’ opinion did not carry the day. It’s also too bad that Osborne was the test case for this very important issue (Osborne is not what most might consider a sympathetic person; even if he was proven innocent of these charges, he faces other charges unrelated to this case). It doesn’t seem right that the Supreme Court would allow the state to withhold exculpatory evidence which would lead to the truth. Isn’t getting to the truth the point of our criminal justice system?

Trust, blogs, and the FTC?

So, the FTC is coming after bloggers who make money and don’t adequately disclose it:

New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers – as well as the companies that compensate them – for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

It would be the first time the FTC tries to patrol systematically what bloggers say and do online. The common practice of posting a graphical ad or a link to an online retailer – and getting commissions for any sales from it – would be enough to trigger oversight.

The Federal Government is the least trustworthy enterprise in the United States. Its leaders and representatives work solely for the benefit of the enterprise, circumventing its own rules and all standards of decency and honesty whenever they deem it necessary. Heck, just this week I received a bill–with penalties and interest–for a tax balance I paid before April 15. Really, how can Washington have any moral standing on this one?

Quote Of The Day

The Sheriff whose deputies raided Berwyn Heights, MD mayor Cheye Calvo’s house predictably doesn’t think they did anything wrong. He said a lot of pretty despicable things in that article, but this one really bothers me:

“I’m sorry for the loss of their family pets,” Jackson said. “But this is the unfortunate result of the scourge of drugs in our community. Lost in this whole incident was the criminal element. . . . In the sense that we kept these drugs from reaching our streets, this operation was a success.”

What criminal element? The mayor? His wife? His elderly mother-in-law? The two labrador retrievers they shot?

Did they suspect Calvo was a drug-runner? Obviously not, because they ALREADY knew the drugs were intended (from an on-going investigation) for a false drop.

If there’s a criminal element, don’t you think it might be the guys, dressed in black, who busted down the door of a law-abiding citizen, terrorized his family, and shot his dogs? All without even a cursory investigation to see if they’d done anything wrong other than having their own address on a package that even the cops weren’t sure was intended for them?

This isn’t the result of the scourge of drugs or the criminal element. This is the result of shoddy police work. This Sheriff should be ashamed of his wanton disregard for logic and humanity.

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