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Supreme Court decides Switzer v. Skinner in favor of Capital Punishment Clinic client

The Supreme Court has issued its decision in Skinner v. Switzer in favor of Hank Skinner, who is represented by the Law School’s Capital Punishment Clinic. The decision was issued March 7, 2011, with Justices Ginsburg, Roberts, Scalia, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in the majority. Justices Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito dissented. Text of the decision is available on the U.S. Supreme Court’s website (PDF).

In October 2010, Owen and Clinic students went to Washinton, D.C., for oral arguments in the case, which was brought by Skinner, a man convicted of killing his girlfriend and two sons in Pampa on New Year’s Eve, 1993. Skinner has claimed that he is innocent, and sued the Gray County District Attorney in order to have DNA evidence tested. Rob Owen, codirector of the Clinic, argued the case before the Supreme Court.

“We are very pleased with today’s decision by the Supreme Court, holding that Mr. Skinner may invoke the protections of the federal Civil Rights Act in his effort to obtain access to evidence for DNA testing,” Owen said about the decision.  “The Court’s action corrects the Fifth Circuit’s fundamental misunderstanding of this important principle. As Justice Ginsburg states in her majority opinion, there is no reason to fear that lawsuits like Mr. Skinner’s will overwhelm the federal courts. The high court’s ruling will simply make it possible for Mr. Skinner to vindicate his due process rights in federal court, a right long enjoyed by prisoners in other parts of the country. We look forward to making our case in federal court that Texas’s inexplicable refusal to grant Mr. Skinner access to evidence for DNA testing is fundamentally unfair and cannot stand.”

Owen said that after the Supreme Court issues its official mandate on the case next month, he expects the district court in Amarillo to set a schedule for the expeditious resolution of Skinner’s due process claims.

Contact: Kirston Fortune, UT Law Communications, 512-471-7330, kfortune@law.utexas.edu

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