SCOTUS will Hear Hank Skinner’s Case but Might Not Make the Final Decisionby Stephen Littau
Yesterday SCOTUS decided they will hear Hank Skinner’s case; arguments will likely be heard sometime next year. However, even if Skinner ‘wins,’ SCOTUS is unlikely to decide once and for all if convicts have a Constitutional right to challenge their convictions if exculpatory evidence becomes available post-conviction. Legal experts say that the most Skinner can hope for is a SCOTUS ruling which would allow a lower court to make the decision which would likely lead to one appeal after another and potentially find its way back to SCOTUS.
Brandi Grissom writing for The Texas Tribune explains the long road ahead if SCOTUS rules in Skinner’s favor:
Even if the court agreed that Skinner can request DNA testing under federal civil rights law, Hoffmann said, it’s unlikely the courts would rule that he has a constitutional right to prove he was actually innocent. The Supreme Court has never ruled that the Constitution spells out such a right. It’s likely that Skinner’s case or a similar one would make its way back to the Supreme Court and eventually force the court to face that question. If the court were to answer it affirmatively, Hoffmann said, it could start a flood of litigation from inmates claiming innocence. That, in turn, could raise a myriad of questions about how the justice system operates and really “gum up the works,” he said. “They really don’t want to kind of bite the bullet and recognize this as a federal constitutional right.”
Allowing DNA requests under federal civil rights law would also bring the Supreme Court closer to a larger question that Blackburn and Hoffmann said the elite jurists have carefully avoided: whether inmates have a constitutional right to prove they are actually innocent. With the rise of DNA science, the question looms large in cases such as Skinner’s, in which testable evidence exists that the jury never heard. Currently, federal innocence claims are primarily based on deprivation of an inmate’s constitutional right to due process — things like shoddy representation or biased juries. There is no legal remedy for convicted criminals who claim the jury just got it wrong, even though their rights were properly protected at trial, Hoffmann said.
“Whether they’re actually innocent or not is kind of a legal irrelevancy once the jury has spoken its version of the truth,” Hoffmann said. “Basically, our legal system is constructed in such a way that that’s the end of it.”
I’m not a lawyer and would never claim to be but a criminal justice system in which judges and lawyers can say that actual proven innocence is ‘legally irrelevant’ is surly a criminal justice system that is broken – particularly when an individual’s life is on the line.
This is why I do not trust the government to kill in my name. There is a legal definition for taking the life of an innocent* person: homicide.
*I’m not claiming to know that Hank Skinner is innocent. He may well be guilty. However, if Skinner (or anyone else on death row for that matter) is innocent, it’s barbaric to suggest that he should be executed simply because the jury has already said otherwise.