Supreme Court (6-3) Allows Death Row Prisoner’s Bid for DNA Testing to Proceed
On April 19, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (6–3) in Reed v. Goertz
that a Texas death row prisoner could continue his pursuit of DNA testing that
a lower court had blocked. The Court held that Rodney Reed’s (pictured) civil
rights claim was filed in federal court in a timely way.
in Reed’s case involved when the clock began ticking on a two-year limit to file
a federal claim once his state appeal was completed. Justice Kavanaugh, writing
for the six-Justice majority, held that the time begins to run “at the end of
the state-court litigation,” which meant when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
(TCCA) denied Reed’s petition for rehearing.
The majority opinion, which was joined by Justices Roberts, Sotomayor,
Kagan, Barrett, and Jackson, noted that the ruling would avoid plaintiffs
having simultaneous federal and state claims for the same action. Justice Thomas
argued in dissent that the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction over Reed’s claim because
it was a state issue. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Gorsuch, argued for an
earlier date for the start of the two-year limit for filing.
Reed’s case has attracted nationwide attention based on his claim of
innocence. Reed, a Black man, was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in
Bastrop, Texas, for the rape and murder of a white woman in 1998. Reed asked to
have the murder weapon and additional evidence tested for DNA, possibly
identifying the true murderer. The state court denied his request, and the TCCA
denied both his appeal and petition for rehearing. An execution date in 2019
was stayed to allow time to consider his claims. Reed’s legal representation
includes the Innocence Project, based in New York.