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Convicts have no constitutional right of access to DNA evidence, Supreme Court says

In a 5-4 decision involving a rape case in Alaska, the court leaves the issue to states.

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Convicted prisoners have no constitutional right to biological evidence for DNA testing.

In a 5-to-4 ruling announced Thursday, the US Supreme Court declined to apply the protections of the Constitution's due process clause to the case of a convicted rapist in Alaska.

The high court said the case should be governed by state laws and state judicial rulings – not constitutional pronouncements from the Supreme Court.

"Establishing a freestanding right to access DNA evidence for testing would force us to act as policymakers," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

The case was being closely followed because it offered the high court the opportunity to make a bold statement establishing a nationwide constitutional standard dealing with DNA evidence. The majority justices declined to do so.

"This approach would take the development of rules and procedures in this area out of the hands of legislatures and state courts shaping policy in a focused manner and turn it over to federal courts applying the broad parameters of the due process clause," the chief justice wrote. "There is no reason to constitutionalize the issue in this way."

The decision comes in the case of convicted rapist William Osborne, who was asking a judge to order new, more accurate DNA testing of the biological evidence used to convict him in 1993.

In a dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said Mr. Osborne had demonstrated a constitutionally protected right to test the evidence used against him.


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