death row inmates DNA testing Hank Skinner Texas U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Hank Skinner

This morning (March 7, 2011), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner can pursue his request for DNA testing through the federal Civil Rights Act.  Skinner came within an hour of execution one year ago before the Court granted him a last-minute stay.  Key pieces of evidence collected at the crime scene have never been subjected to DNA testing, and officials have refused to release it for analysis.

The Justices heard arguments in the case of Skinner vs. Switzer on October 13, 2010.  Their narrow ruling today, by a vote of 6-3, means that Skinner can pursue his claim, though it does not guarantee that he will succeed in securing DNA testing.

Statement from Robert C. Owen, Attorney for Hank Skinner, Re: Today’s U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Skinner v. Switzer

“We are very pleased with today’s decision by the Supreme Court, holding that Mr. Skinner may invoke the protections of the federal Civil Rights Act in his effort to obtain access to evidence for DNA testing.

“The Court’s action corrects the Fifth Circuit’s fundamental misunderstanding of this important principle. As Justice Ginsberg states in her majority opinion, there is no reason to fear that lawsuits like Mr. Skinner’s will overwhelm the federal courts. The high court’s ruling will simply make it possible for Mr. Skinner to vindicate his due process rights in federal court, a right long enjoyed by prisoners in other parts of the country.

“We look forward to making our case in federal court that Texas’s inexplicable refusal to grant Mr. Skinner access to evidence for DNA testing is fundamentally unfair and cannot stand.”

Robert C. Owen, Clinical Professor of Law
The University of Texas at Austin

March 7, 2011

Read more about the decision:

ABA Journal

Dallas Morning News

Austin American Statesman


Houston Chronicle

The Opinion in Skinner v. Switzer is at:

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