How do you get your hands on DNA post-conviction?
By: Robert Adams
“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Sir William Blackstone’s famous expression has been quoted in various forms since he first published his sentiments in the 1760’s. Each variation of his quote carries the same basic legal theme that steps should always be taken to protect the innocent at the risk of letting guilty criminals go free. Blackstone’s statement has been taken to heart by the American criminal justice system and formed its most fundamental principle: that every man is “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”
With recent advances in science and technology, scientists are now able to conclusively prove or disprove a person’s guilt when biological evidence is collected from a crime scene. Leaving the issue of proper collection and storage aside, why would a criminal justice system that was founded on Blackstone’s comment about letting ten criminals go free to save one innocent man the fate of prison not want to test all possible evidence to prove or disprove guilt? If American society truly embraces Blackstone’s comment, then it should also demand all relevant evidence be tested, examined, and presented before a jury to decide.
Contrary to Blackstone’s comment, however, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that there does not exist any constitutional right of access to biological evidence following a valid final conviction on the merits. The Court’s holding is inconsistent with Blackstone’s comment. Instead of categorically denying access to biological evidence, the Court should have adopted a multi-factored test in determining whether access to the evidence should be granted.