Supreme Court hears arguments on access to DNA testing

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Wednesday in Skinner v. Switzer [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on a convicted prisoner's right to seek access to DNA testing. The issue is whether a convicted prisoner seeking access to biological evidence for DNA testing may assert a civil rights claim under Section 1983 [text] or if such a claim is cognizable only under a writ of habeas corpus. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] a district court decision to dismiss Skinner's § 1983 claim seeking access to DNA evidence that may prove his innocence in the murders for which he is now sentenced to death, stating that relief could only be sought through habeas corpus. Counsel for the petitioner argued that the Fifth Circuit's rule, "that any Federal claim that might conceivably set the stage for a subsequent collateral attack, however removed in time, must itself be brought via habeas," cannot be squared with previous Supreme Court decisions. Counsel for the respondent argued that, "Congress set up habeas as a means of allowing collateral attacks. Nowhere else does Congress specifically permit collateral attacks on criminal proceedings."

In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether an oral complaint of a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act [text, PDF] is protected conduct under the anti-retaliation provision [29 USC § 215(a)(3) text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that an oral complaint is not protected and later denied [opinions, PDF] a motion for a rehearing by the full court. Counsel for the petitioner argued:

When Kevin Kasten told his employer that the location of the time clocks was illegal and that if they were taken to the court they would lose, he filed any complaint within the meaning of the 215(a)(3) under the Fair Labor Standards Act, because filing includes an oral communication, because "any" means any, which includes formal or informal, written or unwritten communications.
Counsel for the US government argued as amicus curiae on behalf of Kasten. Counsel for the respondent argued that, "to file any complaint, which as it would have been understood in '38 and frankly after that, when you file a complaint that usually entails some notion of formality."

 

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