This past Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners have no constitutional right to DNA testing that might prove their innocence. The 5-to-4 decision concerned William G. Osborne, who was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping a woman, sexually assaulting and beating her, and leaving her for dead.

Prosecutors have conceded that biological testing on evidence found at the Anchorage, Alaska, crime scene could categorically establish Osborne's guilt or innocence. Furthermore, Osborne has offered to bear the cost of the testing—but is being denied access to the evidence.

Chief Justice Roberts, while acknowledging DNA testing's "unparalleled ability both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty," argued that "to suddenly constitutionalize this area, would short-circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response."

Justice Alito added that allowing Osborne to forgo testing at trial and then request it from prison, "would allow prisoners to play games with the criminal justice system. After conviction, with nothing to lose, the defendant could demand DNA testing in the hope that some happy accident – for example, degradation or contamination of the evidence – would provide the basis for seeking postconviction relief."

Alito was also concerned about the significant costs the states would incur were prisoners "given a never-before-recognized constitutional right to rummage through the state's genetic-evidence locker..."

To sum up the decision – or, to be more accurate, my interpretation thereof – the Court saw fit to uphold the integrity of the judiciary process, when flawlessly executed, even at the expense of losing an opportunity to exonerate a convicted individual.

In lieu of commentary, I'd like to contrast this decision with the way Jewish law handles post-conviction exoneration.

The following is a translation from Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Laws of Sanhedrin 13:1:

One who is sentenced to death is taken out of the courthouse. A kerchief-bearing person stands at the entrance of the courthouse—together with a horse [and rider]. And it is announced:

"So-and-so is being taken to be executed via these-and-these means for this-and-this crime that he committed in this-and-this location at this-and-this time—based on the testimony delivered by so-and-so and so-and-so. Whoever has reason to exonerate the defendant, let him approach!"

If someone comes along and says, "I have exculpatory evidence!" the kerchief bearer waves and the horse-rider races [to the execution site] and the defendant is returned to the courthouse. If the exculpatory evidence is confirmed, he is exonerated; if not, he is again taken to be executed.

Even if the defendant himself says, "I have what to say to exonerate myself," even though it seems that there is no substance to his argument, he is returned to the courthouse a first and second time—perhaps it is due to fear that he can't properly express his case; maybe in the courthouse he will calm himself and state his argument.

If they returned him to the courthouse and found that, indeed, there was no substance to his argument, he is taken back to be executed. If a third time he says, "I have what to say to exonerate myself"—if there is substance to what he is saying, he is returned to the courthouse, even if this repeats itself many times...

Note: Although the above passage describes the procedure for capital cases, Maimonides explains (ibid. 11:4) that this all also applies to cases of manslaughter, which is punishable by exile to a City of Refuge, a punishment significantly less severe than incarceration in a prison cell.