June 18, 2009
5:23 PM

CONTACT: Constitution Project

Matthew Allee, (202) 580-6922 or

Effectiveness of Criminal Justice System Diminished by Today's Supreme Court Decision

Court denied post-conviction access to DNA evidence

WASHINGTON - June 18 - The United States Supreme Court issued a troubling ruling this morning in District Attorney's Office v. Osborne, denying an individual convicted of a crime access to DNA testing even though both the prosecution and defense agree the evidence would prove guilt or innocence. In its 5 to 4 opinion, the Court found that DNA evidence has "an unparalleled ability" to prove a defendant's innocence or guilt, but that "cannot mean that every criminal conviction, or even every criminal conviction involving biological evidence, is suddenly in doubt."  

The following statement by William S. Sessions, member of the Constitution Project's Death Penalty Committee and former director of the FBI, was published in a New York Times letter to the editor on May 27, 2009:  

"DNA testing has the capacity to make law enforcement more effective - by freeing the innocent and apprehending the guilty...As director of the FBI in the late 1980s, I oversaw the creation of the bureau's first DNA laboratory. The initial results were stunning: in approximately 30 percent of the cases, the DNA found during an investigation did not match that of the suspect. In the last 20 years, that percentage has dropped to 25 percent, but remains a rate far too high."  

The Constitution Project's Death Penalty Committee, which includes both supporters and opponents of capital punishment, unanimously agreed that DNA evidence should be preserved, that government officials should consent to DNA testing and make it available to those convicted of capital crimes, and that, if they do not, courts should order the government to submit the evidence for testing. These recommendations were made in the Committee's report, Mandatory Justice: The Death Penalty Revisited, released in July 2005. To view the report, go to:

To see the full letter to the editor, go to:

The Constitution Project is a politically independent think tank established in 1997 to promote and defend constitutional safeguards. More information about the Constitution Project is available at


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