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


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.


Skinner v. Switzer 131 S. Ct. 1289 (2011), Capital punishment, DNA evidence, Equal protection, Not guilty pleas, Stays (Law), United States



Kathryn A. Harrington (Washington University School of Law)



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