Thursday, June 18, 2009
George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominees forget the basics
Today's U.S. Supreme Court decision refusing to allow a convicted rapist to try to prove his innocence with DNA evidence demonstrates -- yet again -- the problem with appointing right-wing idealogues to the bench. This time, both George W. Bush appointees joined with three other conservative justices to find that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to use DNA evidence after trial, even if the evidence was not available but was developed after they were incarcerated, according to Cable News Network (CNN). Why not? Is the purpose of the justice system to convict, or to find justice? Why would it be called the justice system if the purpose was not justice? The 5-4 decision, issued today, reversed a federal appeals court ruling that said Alaska's "refusal to open the evidence locker" was trying to "foreclose" his possible innocence. But let's be perfectly honest here. The convict, William Osborne, appears to be a perfectly awful person -- a monster. He and another man were convicted of a brutal attack on an Anchorage prostitute in which they raped her, beat her with an ax handle, shot her in the head and dumped her in a snowbank near the city's airport, according to CNN. Osborne was sentenced to 26 years in prison, with five years suspended. Within months of being paroled in 2007, he was convicted of assault and kidnapping for a home invasion in Anchorage. This is not a nice guy. But that is supposed to be beside the point. The principle here is whether people accused of crimes by the government have ample opportunity to defend themselves. It's not god accusing them, it's other people -- fallible people. Because people make mistakes, 44 states have passed laws allowing defendants access to biological evidence after conviction. Alaska is not one of those states. "He has no constitutional right to obtain post-conviction access to the state's evidence for DNA testing," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. But in dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens understood what the majority had decided. "There is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not the least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done in this case," he wrote, joined in dissent by Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. According to The Innocence Project, which helped represent Osborn, CNN said, DNA testing has exonerated 232 wrongly convicted people in the past two decades, including 17 men on death row.