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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Supreme Court rejects Rodney Reed request for DNA testing

DNA testing
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed, who has been trying without success to have crime-scene evidence tested for DNA, saying the results could prove his innocence.

The decision, delivered without comment from the court, ended Reed’s bid to have the evidence tested under a state DNA law but opened another avenue to pursue — a federal lawsuit arguing that blocking access to the tests violates the Bastrop man’s civil rights.

“Rodney Reed has asked for DNA testing of crime scene evidence that would unquestionably have been tested if the murder were investigated today,” said Bryce Benjet, Reed’s lead lawyer.

Prosecutors have fought to deny Reed access to the evidence for about four years, arguing that it would not be helpful in solving the 1996 Bastrop-area murder of Stacey Stites because the items had been contaminated by repeated handling during and after Reed’s trial.

Reed’s lawyers claim he is innocent and want to test crime scene evidence that was likely touched by the killer, including Stites’ clothing and two pieces of the belt used to strangle her, to determine if modern testing methods can reveal skin cells and other DNA-bearing evidence.

New techniques can filter out or identify extraneous DNA, the lawyers argued.

However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the request in an 8-0 ruling in April 2017, saying problems with the chain of custody of the evidence raised questions about contamination and serious doubts that DNA testing would produce reliable results.

Reed’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling, arguing that the Texas court misinterpreted the state DNA law’s chain-of-custody language, which requires testing to be done on evidence that has not been “substituted, tampered with, replaced or altered.” The Texas court invented a contamination exception that is not part of the law, they said.

Efforts will be made to have lawmakers correct the court’s “restrictive and unconstitutional” interpretation of the DNA law when the Legislature meets in the first half of 2019, Benjet said.

“The Texas Legislature has repeatedly corrected the Court of Criminal Appeals by amending the DNA law, and we are confident in the coming year that the Legislature will again express their overwhelming support for DNA testing to ensure that innocent men and women are not wrongfully imprisoned or executed,” he said.

In the meantime, Reed will turn to the federal courts for help, Benjet said.

“Although we had hoped that the Supreme Court would immediately take up the constitutional issues raised by the denial of DNA testing, we are also aware that the court has recognized a separate procedure for federal review of DNA cases through a civil action,” he said.

Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz has not yet returned a call seeking comment.

This is a developing story.

Source: statesman.com, Chuck Lindell, June 25, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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