The United States Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in the Osborne case, an Alaska case that asks whether a criminal defendant who claims that he has been wrongfully convicted has a constitutional right to postconviction DNA testing of biological evidence. The transcript of the oral argument is available here, and a news story that summarizes the case is available here. It’s interesting stuff, but in North Carolina, there’s already a statutory right to such testing under G.S. 15A-269. The purpose of this post is to highlight and summarize the statute, and to discuss briefly what Osborne means for North Carolina.
Our statute requires a court to order postconviction DNA testing of biological evidence that is material, related to a judgment against the defendant, and either (a) wasn’t tested before or (b) was tested using significantly cruder tests than are now available, so long as the court determines that, had the evidence had been tested before trial, “there exists a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant.” Id. The defendant must sign a “sworn affidavit of innocence” to obtain the testing, presumably to create the possibility of a perjury prosecution as a disincentive for frivolous requests. If the results are favorable to the defendant, the judge may enter any appropriate order, including vacating the judgment, resentencing the defendant, or ordering a new trial.
So, does Osborne have any implications for North Carolina? Not directly. In fact, North Carolina was one of a relatively handful of states that did not sign on to an amicus brief supporting Alaska, suggesting that the Attorney General’s office doesn’t see much at stake in the case. Of course, at the Osborne oral argument, the Justices asked several questions about whether there is a constitutional right to have claims of actual innocence reviewed by the courts, a possibility that would have significant implications here – but that’s another question, and perhaps another post.