Rehnquist's Funeral
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Prisoners Can Sue Under 1983 to get DNA


William Osborne, an Alaska prisoner, appeals the district court’s dismissal of his action, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to compel the State to release certain biological evidence that was used to convict him in 1994 of kidnapping and sexual assault. Osborne, who maintains his factual innocence, hopes to subject the evidence, at his expense, to more sophisticated DNA analysis than was available at the time of his trial. He alleges that by refusing him post-conviction access to the evidence, the State has violated his constitutional rights under the First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Without reaching the question of whether there exists a constitutional right of post-conviction access to DNA evidence, the district court dismissed Osborne’s action for failure to state a claim. It ruled that because Osborne seeks to “set the stage” for an attack on his underlying conviction, his § 1983 action is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), and thus a petition for habeas corpus is his sole remedy. On appeal, Osborne argues that the district court applied a more restrictive standard than that enunciated in Heck, and submits that success on the merits of his § 1983 claim would not “necessarily imply” the invalidity of his state court conviction. We agree, and accordingly reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings.

Osborne v. District Attorneys Office for the Third Judicial District, No. 04-35126 (9th Cir. Sept. 8, 2005).  In other words, although the panel did not hold that "there exists a constitutional right of post-conviction access to DNA evidence," they did open the courthouse doors to such claims.