The Impact of Hank Skinner’s Case Before the Supreme Court

On Monday, April 19th, the United States Supreme Court is expected to decide if they will hear the case of Hank Skinner. Accepting the case would mean an indefinite stay of Skinner’s execution, with opening oral arguments taking place next Fall. If the Court rejects Skinner’s case, he could face possible execution in the next 30 days.

With compelling evidence which suggests Skinner’s possible innocence his case before the Supreme Court is important. However, an April 13, 2010 article in the Texas Observer notes the larger implications surrounding Skinner’s petition. Dave Mann’s article “The Wider Impact of Hank Skinner’s Case” covers the legal process issue at the heart of Hank Skinner’s appeal. Currently, under Texas Law, inmates seeking additional DNA testing must file under what is known as a writ of habeas corpus. However, a number of restrictions on habeas petitions exist under Texas law including the following:
“For one, the statute of limitations is short. Second, you’re allowed to file only one habeas petition. So if you file once, and more DNA material surfaces later, you’re out of luck. And, third, federal courts are supposed to show deference to state courts in habeas petitions. That means, federal courts can only overturn state rulings when they’re clearly unreasonable. You could argue that the rulings by Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals are frequently unreasonable, but it’s luck of the draw whether a federal judge will see it that way.”
Some Court of Appeals allow for the filing of DNA testing under federal civil rights law which is a substantially less restrictive legal process, however the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which Texas operates under, is not one such circuit. As such, the Supreme Court will now decide if it should mediate a standard of operations for the legal process surrounding the seeking of DNA testing.
What this means for Skinner is a legal process which would allow for additional forensic testing to prove his stated innocence. On a larger scale, the implications of the Supreme Court hearing this argument would allow for many other inmates to obtain DNA testing and substantially lower the chances of wrongful convictions and executions.
To view the entire Texas Observer article click here.