Supreme Court Grants DNA Testing for Juneal Pratt

Supreme Court Grants DNA Testing for Juneal Pratt

On Friday, February 21, 2014, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeals in the case of Juneal Pratt.  Mr. Pratt, who has served 38 years for two rapes, has consistently maintained his innocence.  The Court agreed that Pratt is entitled to DNA testing that might prove his innocence.

Juneal Pratt, an African-American, was arrested in 1975 following the rape of two white women.  For all these years, Mr. Pratt has contended he is innocent and was the victim of cross-racial misidentification.  The nonprofit organization Nebraska Innocence Project has represented Mr. Pratt in his request for DNA testing since 2008.

“The Nebraska Supreme Court rightly recognized that state law requires broad access to DNA testing when it might show that someone was wrongly convicted,” said Tracy Hightower-Henne, a volunteer attorney and Executive Director of the Nebraska Innocence Project.  “This is incredibly exciting news for our client who has been fighting for access to a second round of testing since 2004.”

Juneal Pratt was 19 years old with a history of minor, petty crimes when he was arrested by Omaha Police for two rapes that occurred in a hotel.  Mr. Pratt has always maintained the victims misidentified him.  The Nebraska Innocence Project’s work uncovered the fact that the two victims were originally from Sioux City, Iowa, in a county that had few, if any, black residents.  “Modern studies have revealed the fallacy of eyewitness identification’s accuracy,” noted Hightower-Henne. “Identification becomes even more difficult when it is across races, and the victims in this case would have had little or no previous contact with any black men.  DNA testing is the only reliable way to determine whether Juneal Pratt was involved.”  Social science research has shown that eyewitnesses are more likely to misidentify someone of a different race.

The state of Nebraska fought Mr. Pratt’s request for DNA testing, even though DNA testing has proven the innocence of over 300 men and women across the country.  The state argued Mr. Pratt already had one test and did not merit another one.  “The previous test was not the final answer,” Hightower-Henne noted.  “Scientific improvements in DNA testing mean that while the last test gave no definitive answer, a test today will show whether Mr. Pratt’s or another male’s DNA was present.”

The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected the state’s arguments and found that Nebraska’s DNA Testing Act mandates that Pratt be given the opportunity to retest the biological materials pertinent to his convictions.  The Supreme Court acknowledged that Pratt presented uncontroverted evidence that the biological evidence can now be retested with more accurate current techniques which may exclude Pratt as the contributor of DNA and which may also identify the true perpetrator.

The court remanded the case back to the trial court for testing.  The court’s decision makes it clear that if the testing is able to recover male DNA that does not match Mr. Pratt, his conviction should be overturned, and he will be entitled to a new trial.

“It’s tragic that Mr. Pratt has had to fight so long for access to this testing, but this decision sends a very clear message that DNA testing should be granted when it might prove the answer to guilt,” added Hightower-Henne.

A copy of both the Nebraska Court of Appeals and the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision is available on the Nebraska Supreme Court’s website or by clicking on this link Pratt-2.21.14.pdf.