Supreme Court hears argument over deadline for Texas death row prisoner to challenge state court’s refusal to conduct DNA testing

The United States Supreme Court heard an argument on October 11, 2022 on whether a Texas death row inmate has been barred from getting a federal review of the state’s refusal to grant him DNA tests that could prove his innocence because he waited for the end of the appeals process. state before filing its federal complaint.

The technical problem in Reed vs. Goertz is when the two-year clock started ticking Rodney RoseauThe federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that Texas unconstitutionally denied him access to crime scene evidence for DNA testing. The practical question was whether, in a racist case, prosecutors could prevent a black man who says he was having a secret affair with a white woman from conducting DNA tests on the murder weapon to prove that his racist fiancé was the real killer.

Reed (pictured) was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Bastrop, Texas, for the 1998 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, who prosecutors said he also raped Reed claimed that Stites’ fiancé Jimmy Fennell – a former police officer who was later convicted of sexually assaulting a woman he took into custody – committed the murder.

Texas had argued, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had agreed, that the clock had started ticking the moment the Texas trial court denied Reed’s DNA test request in 2014, even though the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) did not rule on Reed’s appeal of the trial court’s decision until April 2017 and denied his request for a rehearing until in October of the same year. Reed filed her civil rights lawsuit in August 2019.

Reed’s attorney, Parker Rider-Longmaid, told the court that the statute of limitations for Reed’s civil rights lawsuit began to run upon completion of the state court’s review of his case. appeal, which in this case was once the TCCA denied his request for a rehearing. Such a rule would allow the state court to authoritatively interpret its state of law and trigger the federal statute of limitations at a “simple, predictable, and sensible” time. Any rule that triggers the federal clock earlier, he said, “does not respect the state court appeals process.”

Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone overturned the Fifth Circuit’s decision, saying Reed’s clock had begun “no later than” the release of the April 2017 TCCA decision denying Reed’s appeal. To do otherwise, he said, would allow death row inmates to strategically delay, “essentially availing themselves of an endless process.” He admitted, however, that a court’s decision to grant a rehearing would reset the clock.

Court watchers agreed that the justices appeared set to reject the Fifth Circuit standard but, as SCOTUSblog reported, “there was no clear consensus” on which of the two alternatives the Court preferred.

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