May 28, 2024

The Justice of DNA Evidence


One has to be careful reading blogs.  For instance, I was about to do something unusual, namely to agree with Matt Yglesias, so I suppose I should have been suspicious from the get-go.  But that Matt, he’s so slick and charming he darn near took me in when he wrote about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that denied an Alaska man the opportunity to obtain – at his own expense – a DNA test that might exonerate him of a crime. 

I didn’t buy Matt’s real agenda point, namely that the verdict was the result of judicial prejudice and inherent favoritism toward the state on the part of a conservative court led by an unerring fascist named John Roberts, but he got me thinking, why shouldn’t William Osburne be allowed to test DNA evidence, technology wasn’t available at the time/place of his trial and conviction?

There is no good reason, that’s why.  The American justice system is one of the best in the world and one of the most fair.  In the vast majority of cases a correct and just conclusion is reached.  When that doesn’t happen, it behooves the state to remember that the primary purpose of the legal system is to arrive at the truth, even if that means not obtaining a conviction.  DNA evidence should be made available to all defendants when it exists and not be left solely in the hands of state examiners, at least some of whom have proven to be “unreliable”, to say the least.

But therein lies the rub with Mr. Osburne’s case: DNA tests were in fact available at in Alaska at the time of his conviction.  Osburne was in fact tested and his DNA found to be compatible with that found at the crime scene.  Coupled with the testimony of his accomplice in the rape and attempted murder and his own confession, Osburne was convicted of the crime.  Moreover, his attorney considered a more detailed DNA profile but decided against it, knowing that Osburne’s guilt would have been utterly established had it been performed.

Now, in the words of Alaska Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Rosenstein, Osburne is on “a fishing expedition” and looking for a novel way to get himself exonerated in the event that the DNA evidence has been corrupted or lost during the 16 years since his original trial.

Strangely, Yglesias didn’t find it necessary to consider any of these “irrelevant” facts before slamming the Roberts court for their alleged bias. 

Therein lies the lesson: You can’t trust everything you read on-line, even when it’s from a major, trusted source.  I suppose that goes for what you read here as well, though I try to be truthful at all times.

Considering Osburne’s victim barely survived his attack after being shot in the head, Yglesias ought to spend more time considering his words and the purpose to which he’s putting them.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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