Convicts Win Right to Sue for DNA Testing
Supreme Court rules in favor of Texas death row inmate
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2011 5:50 AM CST
Hank Skinner, sent to Texas' death row and spared from execution earlier this year, is set to take his case before the high court, which may decide whether his attorneys can test items for DNA.   (AP Photo/Texas Department of Criminal Justice, File)

(Newser) – Convicts can use a federal civil rights law to seek DNA testing of evidence, the Supreme Court decided yesterday. The court ruled in favor of Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner, who was sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of his girlfriend and her two sons. Skinner—who was granted a reprieve as he ate his last meal—has been trying for years to have evidence, including rape kits and fingernail scrapings, sent for testing, reports NPR.

Texas—where 41 convicts have been exonerated by DNA evidence in the last nine years—barred Skinner from having the evidence tested because his lawyers did not ask for testing during his trial. "There have been for many years a couple of procedural dragons that stood in the way of prisoners trying to use the federal civil rights act to get DNA testing that could exonerate them," says a senior lawyer at the Innocence Project. The ruling, she says, "slayed those dragons." Many prosecutors were dismayed by the ruling, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said fears of a flood of litigation were unwarranted.