Article Title

Ghosts of Innocent Men: Necessary Implications of Skinner v. Switzer

Publication Title

Washington University Journal of Law & Policy


Untested DNA evidence exists, and questions about Skinner‘s guilt in a 1993 New Year‘s Eve triple murder remain. In March 2011, the Supreme Court recognized Skinner‘s right to sue under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for access to untested DNA evidence. Skinner‘s § 1983 suit is pending in federal court in Texas. He awaits the decision on death row. Part I of this Note briefly describes the history of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system, examines the relevant state and federal statutes governing post-conviction relief, and outlines the case law leading to the Skinner issue. Part I concludes with a discussion of Skinner‘s procedural history and the specific arguments made for and against recognizing DNA evidence requests under § 1983. Part II analyzes the circuit split over § 1983 DNA evidence requests and argues that the Supreme Court correctly recognized the claim under Heck. Skinner‘s ability to establish a valid § 1983 claim based on a procedural due process violation is analyzed and alternative arguments to secure DNA testing are suggested. Part III proposes a federal constitutional right for state death row inmates to test any available DNA evidence at the time their execution date is set.