by David G. Savage

Reporting from Washington — The Supreme Court said Thursday that DNA possesses a unique ability to free the innocent and convict the guilty, but the justices nonetheless ruled that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to demand DNA testing of evidence that remains in police files.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court’s conservative bloc agreed to stand back and allow states to work out the rules for new testing of old crime samples.

Already, 47 states and the federal government have enacted laws or rules that allow prisoners under some circumstances to obtain DNA tests, the high court said.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the majority saw no need for "a free-standing and far-reaching constitutional right of access to this type of evidence." Upholding such a right "would take the development of rules and procedures in this area of out of the hands of legislatures and state courts shaping policy in a focused manner and turn it over to federal courts," he wrote in the opinion.

While Roberts stressed the virtues of judicial restraint, the dissenters said the court was abdicating its duty to seek justice.

Source: Los Angeles Times
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