Supreme Court rules habeas reviews cannot consider non-record evidence

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] in McDaniel v. Brown [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a federal district court may not consider non-record evidence when conducting a sufficiency review of evidence during federal habeas corpus proceedings. In a per curiam opinion, the Court found that the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit erred when it allowed consideration [opinion, PDF] of a report detailing statistical errors [NYT backgrounder] in DNA evidence against the defendant submitted 11 years after the trial as part of a habeas petition under the sufficiency-of-the-evidence standard announced in Jackson v. Virginia [opinion text].


We have stated before that "DNA testing can provide powerful new evidence unlike anything known before." ... Given the persuasiveness of such evidence in the eyes of the jury, it is important that it be presented in a fair and reliable manner. The State acknowledges that [the prosecution witness] committed the prosecutor's fallacy ... and the Mueller Report suggests that [the witness's] testimony may have been inaccurate regarding the likelihood of a match with one of respondent's brothers. Regardless, ample DNA and non-DNA evidence in the record adduced at trial supported the jury's guilty verdict under Jackson[.]

The Court noted that even if the Court of Appeals were permitted to consider the post-conviction report, it committed an "egregious" error by excluding all DNA evidence from sufficiency consideration.

Addressing the issue of post-conviction use of DNA evidence last June, the Court ruled [JURIST report] in District Attorney's Office v. Osborne [Cornell LII backgrounder] that a defendant does not have the right to obtain access to the state’s biological evidence in order to do DNA testing.

 

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