The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear the case of Hank Skinner v. Lynn Switzer just one month from today, on 13 October 2010. The question to be answered is:
May a convicted prisoner seeking access to biological evidence for DNA testing assert that claim in a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or is such a claim cognizable only in a petition for writ of habeas corpus?
Skinner's (not so) brief is here. Switzer's (not so) brief is here. My (overly-simplified) brief is thus: Skinner argues justice masked as procedure; Switzer argues procedure masked as procedure.
Skinner argues "A holding that an access-to-evidence claim lies at the 'core' of habeas would indefensibly broaden the scope of the Great Writ," while Switzer argues "Skinner’s Claim ... Is Not Cognizable Under §1983."
Skinner argues "Requiring claims such as Mr. Skinner’s to be brought in habeas would create great difficulty in reconciling the habeas statute with ... varying procedures for DNA testing," while Switzer argues "Skinner’s Challenges Are Jurisdictionally Barred by the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine."
Skinner argues "Allowing post-conviction DNA testing claims ... would be true to the principles of separation of powers, comity, and stare decisis," while Switzer argues "Switzer Is Not the Appropriate Defendant for Skinner’s As-Applied Challenge."
And that is but an overly-simplified overview of the legal knot the Supremes must untangle.
If Skinner wins, he will still have a long road ahead of him before any possible new trial.
If Skinner loses, he will have a short road ahead of him, one that culminates at the Texas death chamber.
If Skinner wins, some of the quarter million people we now have wrongfully incarcerated may have a new glimmer of hope.
If Skinner loses, those who claim to protect us will have even less reason to concern themselves with those those they wrongfully convict, incarcerate, and execute.
I hope Skinner wins.