On March 2, lawyers from the Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, argued before the Supreme Court that prisoners have a constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing. The case, District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, reached the Supreme Court after the state of Alaska repeatedly refused to grant convicted rapist William Osborne access to DNA evidence that could potentially prove his innocence. Given that DNA testing has resulted in more than 230 post-conviction exonerations in the United States, it is to be hoped that the Supreme Court issues an opinion in Osborne’s favor. (The decision is expected in June.)

Alaska is one of four states that do not have a law giving prisoners access to DNA testing. The other three states are Massachusetts, Alabama and Oklahoma. Legislators from these states must look at the statistics and recognize the injustice of refusing to give access to DNA evidence to convicted criminals who have proclaimed their innocence. They should look to the governors of South Dakota and Mississippi as examples, who recently signed DNA access laws on March 11 and March 16, respectively.

According to the Innocence Project Web site, those who have been exonerated served an average of 12 years in prison. Of the more than 230 exonerees, 17 served time on death row. Eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 77 percent of the cases, with some victims claiming that they were 100 percent confident in their identifications. Nearly half of the cases involved faulty forensic evidence, and in 25 percent of the cases defendants made incriminating statements against themselves, including false confessions and guilty pleas.

Putting the facts aside, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution says that no state can “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Although Osborne had his trial, the scientific and technological advances that our country has made since he was convicted in 1994 have dramatically changed our justice system. Last April, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed, ruling that Osborne’s “right to due process of law prohibits the state from denying him reasonable access to biological evidence for the purpose of further DNA testing.”

So what is Alaska waiting for? The Innocence Project has offered to pay the full cost of conducting the DNA test – all that Alaska has to do is turn over the evidence. Whether or not the Ninth Circuit’s decision will be upheld is in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Let’s assume that the Supreme Court grants Osborne access to the evidence and that he is exonerated through DNA testing. His fight will not stop there. Even after wrongfully convicted criminals are released, many have to fight to receive compensation from the states that kept them behind bars. After spending an average of 12 years in prison, most exonerees have lost everything. Many have been robbed of the chance to get education, find jobs and start families.

States should be obligated to help rebuild the lives of the wrongfully convicted. In addition to money, the government should provide them with job placement assistance, housing and healthcare coverage. Only 25 states have compensation statutes, many of which fall short of providing the necessary assistance.

Given advances in forensic technology, convicted criminals who have proclaimed their innocence have a constitutional right to DNA testing. If they are exonerated, states must provide the assistance necessary to help them get back on their feet. Those individuals who have lost the chance for a normal life because of wrongful convictions need and deserve more from our government than simple apologies. After fighting for years, Osborne deserves the opportunity to fight for his innocence. And should he be released, just as others have been in the past, we must remember that the fight does not stop there.

Emily Lurie is a junior in the College.

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