Seventh Circuit Review


Progress in the field of DNA testing over the last few decades has resulted in increasingly accurate results. Often this means that DNA evidence found to be inconclusive years ago may prove exculpatory to a prisoner if subjected to today’s more advanced testing. Prisoners may potentially gain access to this evidence through two methods: 1) a writ of habeas corpus; or 2) a § 1983 action. While both approaches can yield the same results, a writ of habeas corpus is subject to several procedural requirements which can delay a prisoner’s access to testing, making a § 1983 action a potentially more desirable path to follow. While both the Eleventh and Ninth circuits have allowed prisoners to gain post-conviction access to DNA testing through § 1983 actions, the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth circuits have held that prisoners seeking such access are limited to habeas relief. In the 2006 case Savory v. Lyons, the Seventh Circuit followed the lead of the Eleventh and Ninth circuits and held that a prisoner’s request for post-conviction access to physical evidence for the purpose of DNA testing is cognizable through a § 1983 action. This Comment reviews the jurisprudence leading to Savory, examines Savory’s facts and analysis, and argues that the Seventh Circuit’s approach in Savory is correct because the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision Wilkinson v. Dotson regarding the validity of § 1983 actions seeking post-conviction relief, though not speaking directly to the issue as it pertains to DNA testing, creates a framework in which such actions are cognizable.

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