A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose

In Skinner v. Switzer, 2011 WL 767703, No. 09–9000, March 7, 2011, the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES has reversed a ruling of 5th Circuit, 363 Fed. Appx. 302 (2010). Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices ROBERTS, SCALIA, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN joined.
The issue was whether a convicted state prisoner seeking DNA testing of crime-scene evidence may assert that claim in a civil rights action under 42 U. S. C. §1983 or may assert the claim in federal court only in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U. S. C. §2254. Justice Ginsburg held that a postconviction claim for DNA testing may be properly pursued in a §1983 action as success in the suit gains for the prisoner only access to the DNA evidence, which may prove exculpatory, inculpatory, or inconclusive; in no event will a judgment that simply orders DNA tests necessarily imply the unlawfulness of the State’s custody, so a petition for a writ of habeas corpus sur 28 USC 2254 is not required.

Justice THOMAS filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices KENNEDY and ALITO joined.

New York Times report

Free legal research available on State and Federal court appointed cases from the Student Research Center. http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch?appNum=4

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