Supreme Court To Hear Case of Texas Death Row Inmate Denied DNA Testing

On May 24, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether a Texas death row inmate’s request for DNA testing can be considered as a civil rights claim rather than part of his death penalty appeal. The Court stayed Hank Skinner’s execution on March 24, just one hour before he was to be put to death. Skinner, who has always maintained his innocence of the 1993 murders of his girlfriend and her two sons, has requested that Texas perform DNA testing on key pieces of evidence that may point to another suspect. Although some evidence from the crime scene was tested prior to Skinner’s trial, Texas has subsequently repeatedly blocked DNA testing of other evidence from the victim’s body. The original DNA testing tended to show that Skinner was present at the crime scene, a fact he does not dispute. Lower federal courts have been split on whether such a challenge can be brought as a civil rights claim, thereby avoiding the tight restrictions applied to death penalty appeals. The case is Skinner v. Switzer, No. 09-9000, and is likely to be argued in the fall of 2010.

(A. Turner, “High court to review Skinner’s request for DNA test,” Houston Chronicle, May 24, 2010). See also Innocence and U.S. Supreme Court.