Supreme Court Hears Rodney Reed’s DNA Testing Appeal

Rodney Reed, a death row inmate, sought post-conviction DNA evidence to prove his innocence. He alleges an all-White jury convicted him of killing a White woman in 1998.

Texas courts dismissed his appeals since his conviction. Kim Kardashian and Rihanna signed a petition to stop his execution.

Supreme Court Hears Rodney Reed's Dna Testing Appeal
Supreme Court Hears Rodney Reed’s Dna Testing Appeal

At oral arguments, a state lawyer indicated Reed was trying to delay his execution, but it was unclear if he influenced all conservative justices. The state advised detainees against “endless court procedures”

The case focuses on DNA crime-scene testing and whether an offender might claim innocence using the technology. 375 people in the U.S. have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 21 on death row, according to the Innocence Project, which represents Reed and other clients.

Elena Kagan agreed with Reed’s attorney that the appeals process must be completed before an inmate can seek a federal court to intervene.

“Isn’t it easiest to say a person isn’t injured until the state process is over and we know the verdict?” asked.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson concurred, saying that a federal court would likely put the appeal on hold if an inmate brought the challenge before the state processes were over.

Chief Justice John Roberts feared detainees would avoid an instant appeal to “delay” an execution.

Brett Kavanaugh was concerned in the “practical challenges” courts would face if an inmate brought a federal court challenge before exhausting state proceedings.

A state prisoner denied DNA testing in state court can seek it in federal court. Reed’s case raises a statute of limitations question about whether a claim can be brought after state court proceedings or when a trial court prohibited DNA testing.

Lower courts are split on the question, which is significant for Reed because a federal appeals court said he waited too long to file his claim. How the Supreme Court rules could affect death row convicts seeking new evidence. DNA testing is being used to exonerate wrongfully condemned people.

Reed was convicted of murdering Stacey Stites, 19.

A pedestrian found Stites’ body beside a shirt and belt. Reed was targeted because he fathered her. Reed acknowledged the affair, but said her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, was the last to see her alive.

Reed claims he’s found “substantial evidence” of his innocence in the previous 20 years. Reed says DNA testing implicates Fennell in the murder. Reed claims witnesses said Fennell threatened to strangle Stites with a belt if he caught her cheating. Fennell was later jailed for sexually assaulting a woman in his custody. Reed wants to try Stites’ strangulation belt.

The disputed Texas law allows post-conviction DNA testing if certain conditions are met. Reed lost. The Supreme Court denied him in 2018. Now he’s challenging the Texas law, arguing that denying DNA testing violates his due process rights.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said he waited too long to sue. “A plaintiff is injured when he discovers or should have discovered a right violation.” The court said he knew this in 2014 and his current claim is “time barred.”

Reed’s lawyers argued he couldn’t bring the claim until the state appeals court ruled, after state court litigation. Parker Rider-Longmaid said the “clock doesn’t start ticking” until state court proceedings end. In Texas’ view, other appellate procedures are “irrelevant.”

Janai Nelson of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund endorses Reed’s argument that “the vast majority of incarcerated inmates exonerated with DNA evidence since 1989 have been people of color and largely Black men.”

In court papers, Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone II said the state presented “substantial” evidence that Reed “sexually assaulted multiple other women.” Reed’s claim cannot be brought because he lacks legal standing, he says.



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