ON FEB 4, 2011, THE INNOCENCE PROJECT EXONERATED ITS 250th PERSON THROUGH DNA TESTING
It seems therefore sadly ironic that, in the same month, the Supremes must again look at the confusing welter of laws about DNA testing that vary from state to state, affecting the fates of inmates claiming innocence.
The Washington Post has the story. Here’s how it opens:
The news brings almost routine stories about wrongfully convicted prisoners who are exonerated by DNA testing, but they often have traveled widely divergent paths to freedom.
In some states, only prisoners facing execution have the right to DNA testing to try to prove their innocence. In others, anyone who pleaded guilty is barred from asking for the testing. In the patchwork of legislation passed by Congress and 48 states, even individual prosecutors can carry great weight.
The Supreme Court is again considering the tangled legal questions that accompany the issue in the case of Henry Skinner, who says DNA evidence could settle the question of whether he murdered his girlfriend and her two developmentally disabled adult sons.
Prosecutors in Gray County, Tex., where Skinner was convicted, are convinced that he is guilty and say he passed up a chance to test DNA evidence at his trial 15 years ago. Texas courts said he didn’t meet the requirements of a state law that grants DNA testing to some convicts. Federal courts said they had no proper role in second-guessing Texas.
Skinner came within 45 minutes of being strapped down for lethal injection before the Supreme Court stayed his execution to hear his case. The justices’ decision could come at any time.
The oral arguments in Skinner v. Switzer traversed the legal landscape of habeas corpus reviews and federal civil rights laws,but bypassed the question most nonlawyers would have: Why not just test the evidence?
If Skinner’s crime had occurred in Dallas, instead of 350 miles northwest, the testing probably would have been done by now.
The Witchita Eagle is doing a fascinating series about a man who may be a victim not a murderer.
Ronnie Lee Rhodes was convicted of murder in Wichita in 1981. He has maintained his innocence for three decades. To try to prove his claims, he filed a motion for DNA testing in April 2008, but evidence that once existed now can’t be found. An investigation by The Wichita Eagle and the Washburn School of Law shows the case illustrates flaws in a system that’s supposed to protect the innocent.
Here’s the main part of the story.
And here’s the latest update.
REPUB AZ LAWMAKERS WANT HOSPITALS TO CHECK PATIENTS FOR LEGALITY
Medical professionals are less than pleased about the idea of being asked to do ICE enforcement. AP has the story (via Salon):
Republican lawmakers want to widen Arizona’s illegal immigration crackdown with a proposal to require hospitals to check on whether patients are in the country legally, causing outrage among medical professionals who fear becoming de facto immigration agents under the law.
The medical industry ripped the bill Monday as it was scheduled for a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Doctors envisioned scenarios in which immigrants with contagious diseases such as tuberculosis would stay home from the clinic or hospital and put themselves and the public at a grave health risk.
“This is making us into a police state that will try to catch people when they are sick,” said George Pauk, a retired doctor with an organization called Physicians for a National Health Program. “Do we want to stop sick people from coming in for health care?”
THE WASHINGTON POST HAS ITS OWN INNOCENCE STORY
In an editorial, the WaPo calls for action in the case of Thomas Haynesworth. Here’s how it opens:
THOMAS HAYNESWORTH has spent the past 27 years behind bars for crimes he probably did not commit.
Mr. Haynesworth was 18 years old and had a clean record when he was charged in Richmond in 1984 with raping or assaulting four women. He pleaded not guilty to all charges but was convicted in three of the four cases and sentenced to some 70 years in prison.
Mr. Haynesworth was offered a glimmer of hope in 2005 when then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) ordered a review of thousands of criminal cases after the exoneration of five wrongly convicted men. DNA evidence proved that Mr. Haynesworth was innocent of two rapes – one for which he was convicted and the other where the jury acquitted him based on other evidence. The DNA conclusively pointed the finger at another Virginia man, a serial rapist who came to be known as “the Black Ninja” and who is serving multiple life sentences for other crimes.