Supreme Court to Hear DNA Testing Case on October 13

On October 13, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Skinner v. Switzer. Hank Skinner was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and her two sons in 1993 in their Texas home. He has always maintained his innocence, and there is untested DNA evidence that may prove someone else committed the crime. Some DNA testing was conducted before trial, placing Skinner in the house where his girlfriend lived, a fact he does not dispute. Although Texas has a law allowing some post-conviction DNA testing, Gray County District Attorney Lynn Switzer has refused to surrender the untested items, claiming that Skinner’s appeal has come too late. Almost all such cases are settled in state court, but because of Texas’s refusal to allow the testing before his execution, Skinner is asking the Supreme Court to rule that his legal challenge can be heard under the federal civil rights law, rather than as part of his ordinary appeal. The lower federal courts are split on this issue, with most circuits allowing such a challenge. This preliminary issue of whether Skinner has an avenue to pursue the testing is a narrow one, but without the testing he could be executed soon.

(M. Graczyk, “Death row inmate seeks high court OK for DNA tests,” Associated Press, October 11, 2010). See U.S. Supreme Court and Innocence.