On June 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of the US made what appears to me to be an utterly baffling, shocking and deeply offensive decision. In Alaska, William Osborne was convicted of kidnapping, assault and rape, though he maintains he is innocent. The state of Alaska has DNA evidence that was never tested that Osborne claims will prove whether or not he commited the crime — but Alaska refuses to run the tests. It’s not a matter of money, even — Osborne has said he would pay for the tests; it’d cost the state nothing. The case wound its way up to the Court, and they decided, 5-4, that Alaska does NOT have to provide the evidence to be tested and potentially exonerate Osborne. Chief Justice Roberts‘ decision was based on the idea that allowing the evidence to be tested could potentially result in “unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal justice”.
I do not understand this argument at all — nor does Justice Stevens who wrote a dissenting argument. Justice Stevens understands that with the DNA test we have an ability to determine whether or not justice has been done — and if it hasn’t, then resources can be spent both to apprehend the true perpetrator of the crime AND in giving Osborne his freedom if it turns out he indeed deserves it.
I would be interested in hearing an argument for the other side; the Supreme Court Justices can’t be stupid people, but it just doesn’t make sense to me how justice is served by this decision.
If you’re as upset as I am, and want to do something — you can check out The Innocence Project, a non-profit devoted to exonerating the wrongly convicted and one of the handful of charities I’ve contributed to. For more on what the Innocence Project does, check out the book Surviving Justice, a book of oral histories of folks the Innocence Project has exonerated, edited by Lola Vollen and Dave Eggers.
H/T to Mark Evanier, who wrote a couple posts that twigged me to what was happening. And as Mark points out — it could be that Osborne is guilty as sin and should continue rotting away in prison…. but shouldn’t we know FOR SURE?