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Supreme Court Considers Whether to Allow Requests for DNA Evidence under the Civil Rights Act

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The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday in the case of Skinner v. Switzer to decide whether a prisoner can make a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for access to DNA evidence. The Fifth Circuit held that such a claim must be brought in federal court via habeas, not the Civil Rights Act. Hank Skinner was convicted in Texas of killing his girlfriend and her two sons in 1993 and was sentenced to death. DNA evidence at trial showed that the blood of at least two of the victims was on Skinner’s clothes. However, Skinner seeks access to other biological evidence that was not tested at trial, including two knives, hairs found in his girlfriend’s hand, and her fingernail clippings. In March, the Justices stayed Skinner’s execution an hour before it was to occur.

While not associated with Skinner’s case, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project supports DNA testing in any case where such evidence might be exculpatory.

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