Supreme Court Allows Death-Row Inmate’s Request For DNA Testing To Proceed

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The Supreme Court will allow a death-row inmate’s request for DNA testing he believes will prove his innocence to proceed.

Rodney Reed was convicted over two decades ago for the 1996 murder of 19-year old Stacey Stites, with whom he was having an affair, though he has consistantly claimed innocence. After state courts denied his motion for DNA testing, Reed sued in federal court, arguing that Texas’ DNA testing law did not provide procedural due process.

In a 6-3 Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit’s decision, which held that Reed waited too long after the two-year statute of limitations to file his federal lawsuit. The Court concluded that the statute of limitations begins at the end of state-court litigation, not before the appeal.

“[S]ignificant systemic benefits ensue from starting the statute of limitations clock when the state litigation in DNA testing cases like Reed’s has concluded,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson. (RELATED: ‘We’re More Hyper-Sensitive’: Justices Appear Leery Of Chilling Speech In First Amendment ‘True Threats’ Case)

“If any due process flaws lurk in the DNA testing law, the state appellate process may cure those flaws, thereby rendering a federal [civil rights claim] suit unnecessary,” he continued. “And if the state appellate court construes the DNA testing statute, that construction will streamline and focus subsequent [civil rights claim] proceedings.”

Reed initially requested DNA testing on the belt used to strangle Stites and dozens of other pieces of evidence in 2014.

Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Samuel Alito also filed a dissent, which was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“Reed’s action should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction,” Thomas wrote. “Federal district courts lack appellate jurisdiction to review state-court judgments, and Reed’s action presents no original Article III case or controversy between him and the district attorney.”

Parker Rider-Longmaid, who argued on Reed’s behalf, said the ruling is “a critical step toward the ultimate goal of getting DNA testing in Rodney Reed’s case.”

“We are grateful that the Court has kept the courthouse doors open to Mr. Reed, a Black man who has spent 24 years on death row for the murder of a white woman with whom he was having an affair, a crime he has steadfastly maintained he did not commit,” Rider-Longmaid said. “As Mr. Reed’s briefs explain, extensive evidence developed in postconviction proceedings both points to Mr. Reed’s innocence and implicates the victim’s fiancé.”

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