Justia Summary

Convicted of the 1996 strangulation murder of Stites, Reed was sentenced to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Reed’s state and federal habeas petitions were unsuccessful. In 2014, Reed sought DNA testing of the evidence. The prosecutor refused to test most of the evidence. The court denied Reed’s motion; the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, citing chain of custody issues.

Reed filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that Texas’s stringent chain-of-custody requirement was unconstitutional and effectively foreclosed DNA testing for individuals convicted before the promulgation of rules governing the handling and storage of evidence. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, finding that the two-year statute of limitations began to run when the Texas trial court denied Reed’s motion, not when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied rehearing.

The Supreme Court reversed. The statute of limitations began to run at the end of the state-court litigation. Establishing a procedural due process violation requires proof of deprivation by state action of a protected interest in life, liberty, or property, and inadequate state process. The claim is not complete when the deprivation occurs but only when the state fails to provide due process. Texas’s alleged failure to provide Reed with a fundamentally fair process was complete when the state litigation ended and deprived Reed of his asserted liberty interest in DNA testing. If the statute of limitations began to run after a state trial court’s denial of the motion, the prisoner would likely continue to pursue state court relief while filing a federal section 1983 suit. That parallel litigation would run counter to principles of federalism, comity, consistency, and judicial economy. If any due process flaws lurk in the DNA testing law, the state appellate process may cure those flaws, rendering a federal suit unnecessary.