... So that You may be kept informed

US: No right to DNA tests after conviction: US court

19 Jun 2009 2:52 AM

WASHINGTON, June 18 AFP - The US Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that a defendant does not have the constitutional right to demand DNA tests to prove his innocence after his case has already been tried.

In a split decision of five to four in a country which still carries out the death penalty, the nation's highest court said a federal Alaska tribunal was wrong to allow a man jailed for rape to have retroactive DNA tests.

"DNA testing has an unparalleled ability both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty," the court wrote in its opinion of the case of William Osborne, serving 26 years in prison for the 1994 rape.

"At the same time, DNA testing alone does not always resolve a case. Where there is enough other incriminating evidence and an explanation for the DNA result, science alone cannot prove a prisoner innocent," it added.

Osborne's court-appointed lawyer had originally refused DNA tests fearing it would prove his client's guilt.

He only allowed a less precise test to go ahead which showed that the DNA of Osborne, an African-American, matched only 15 per cent of the population. That fact plus the testimony of his co-accused led the jury to convict him.

When his appeal was turned down, Osborne demanded that new tests should be carried out. His first appeal was rejected by a local Alaska court, but he won when he took his case to a higher federal court.

Alaska, one of six US states which does not allow retroactive DNA tests after a trial, then appealed to the Supreme Court. Alaskan authorities argued that it was up to the legislature to decide who should have the right to post-trial DNA tests.

If a defendant is presumed innocent before he is tried, then things are different once the trial is over and he has been found guilty, the Supreme Court agreed.

"The state accordingly has more flexibility in deciding what procedures are needed in the context of post-conviction relief," the Supreme Court said.