Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted review in this case to decide a question presented, but left unresolved, in District Attorney's Office for Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U.S. ___, ___, 129 S.Ct. 2308, 2318-19, 174 L.Ed.2d 38 (2009): May a convicted state prisoner seeking DNA testing of crime-scene evidence assert that claim in a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or is such a claim cognizable in federal court only when asserted in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254? The Courts of Appeals have returned diverse responses. Compare McKithen v. Brown, 481 F.3d 89, 99 (C.A.2 2007) (claim seeking DNA testing is cognizable under § 1983); Savory v. Lyons, 469 F.3d 667, 669 (C.A.7 2006) (same); Bradley v. Pryor, 305 F.3d 1287, 1290-1291 (C.A.11 2002) (same), with Harvey v. Horan, 278 F.3d 370, 375 (C.A.4 2002) (claim is not cognizable under § 1983) and Kutzner v. Montgomery County, 303 F.3d 339, 341 (C.A.5 2002) (per curiam) (same).
In Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 125 S.Ct. 1242, 161 L.Ed.2d 253 (2005), we comprehensively surveyed this Court's decisions on the respective provinces of § 1983 civil rights actions and § 2254 federal habeas petitions. Habeas is the exclusive remedy, we reaffirmed, for the prisoner who seeks "immediate or speedier release" from confinement. Id., at 82, 125 S.Ct. 1242. Where the prisoner's claim would not "necessarily spell speedier release," however, suit may be brought under § 1983. Ibid. Adhering to our opinion in Dotson, we hold that a postconviction claim for DNA testing is properly pursued in a § 1983 action. Success in the suit gains for the prisoner only access to the DNA evidence, which may prove exculpatory, inculpatory, or inconclusive. In no event will a judgment that simply orders DNA tests "necessarily impl[y] the unlawfulness of the State's custody." Id., at 81, 125 S.Ct. 1242. We note, however, that the Court's decision in Osborne severely limits the federal action a state prisoner may bring for DNA testing. Osborne rejected the extension of substantive due process to this area, 557 U.S., at ___, 129 S.Ct., at 2322, and left slim room for the prisoner to show that the governing state law denies him procedural due process, see id., at ___, 129 S.Ct., at 2321.
In 1995, a Texas jury convicted petitioner Henry Skinner and sentenced him to death for murdering his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two sons. Busby was bludgeoned and choked with an axe handle and her sons were stabbed to death; the murders were committed in the house Busby shared with Skinner.
Investigators also retained vaginal swabs taken from Busby.
In preparation for trial, "the State tested the blood on [Skinner's] clothing, blood and hair from a blanket that partially covered one of the victims, and hairs on one of the victim's back and cheeks." Skinner v. State, 122 S.W.3d 808, 810 (Tex.Crim.App. 2003). The State also tested fingerprint evidence. Some of this evidence—including bloody palm prints in the room where one victim was killed—implicated Skinner, but "fingerprints on a bag containing one of the knives" did not. Ibid. Items left untested included the knives found on the premises, the axe handle, vaginal swabs, fingernail clippings, and additional hair samples. See ibid.
In the decade following his conviction, Skinner unsuccessfully sought state and federal postconviction relief. See Skinner v. Quarterman, 576 F.3d 214 (C.A.5 2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 1689, 176 L.Ed.2d 187 (2010). He also pursued
In 2001, more than six years after Skinner's conviction, Texas enacted Article 64, a statute allowing prisoners to gain postconviction DNA testing in limited circumstances. Tex.Code Crim. Proc. Ann., Art. 64.01(a) (Vernon Supp.2010). To obtain DNA testing under Article 64, a prisoner must meet one of two threshold criteria. He may show that, at trial, testing either was "not available" or was "available, but not technologically capable of providing probative results." Art. 64.01(b)(1)(A). Alternatively, he may show that the evidence was not previously tested "through no fault" on his part, and that "the interests of justice" require a postconviction order for testing. Art. 64.01(b)(1)(B). To grant a motion for postconviction testing, a court must make further findings, prime among them, the movant "would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing," and "the [Article 64] request . . . [was] not made to unreasonably delay the execution of sentence or administration of justice." Art. 64.03(a)(2).
Invoking Article 64, Skinner twice moved in state court, first in 2001 and again in 2007, for DNA testing of yet untested biological evidence. See supra, at 1295, n. 3. Both motions were denied. Affirming the denial of Skinner's first motion, the CCA held that he had failed to demonstrate a "reasonable probability . . . that he would not have been . . . convicted if the DNA test results were exculpatory." Skinner v. State, 122 S.W.3d, at 813.
Skinner's second motion was bolstered by discovery he had obtained in the interim.
Skinner next filed the instant federal action for injunctive relief under § 1983, naming as defendant respondent Lynn Switzer, the District Attorney whose office prosecuted Skinner and has custody of the evidence Skinner would like to have DNA tested. Skinner's federal-court complaint alleged that Texas violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by refusing to provide for the DNA testing he requested. Complaint ¶ 33, App. 20-21. The Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal
On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed, 363 Fed.Appx. 302 (2010) (per curiam), reiterating that "an action by a prisoner for post-conviction DNA testing is not cognizable under § 1983 and must instead be brought as a petition for writ of habeas corpus," id., at 303. On Skinner's petition,
Because this case was resolved on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the question below was "not whether [Skinner] will ultimately prevail" on his procedural due process claim, see Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974), but whether his complaint was sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold, see Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002). Skinner's complaint is not a model of the careful drafter's art, but under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint need not pin plaintiff's claim for relief to a precise legal theory. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally requires only a plausible "short and plain" statement of the plaintiff's claim, not an exposition of his legal argument. See 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1219, pp. 277-278 (3d ed.2004 and Supp. 2010).
Skinner stated his due process claim in a paragraph alleging that the State's refusal "to release the biological evidence for testing. . . has deprived [him] of his liberty interests in utilizing state procedures to obtain reversal of his conviction and/or to obtain a pardon or reduction of his sentence. . . ." Complaint ¶ 33, App. 20-21. As earlier recounted, see supra, at 1295-1296, Skinner had twice requested and failed to obtain DNA testing under the only state-law procedure then available to him. See Complaint ¶¶ 22-31, App. 14-20.
Respondent Switzer asserts that Skinner's challenge is "[j]urisdictionally [b]arred" by what has come to be known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Brief for Respondent 48-49 (boldface deleted). In line with the courts below, we conclude that Rooker-Feldman does not bar Skinner's suit.
As we explained in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005), the Rooker-Feldman doctrine has been applied by this Court only twice, i.e., only in the two cases from which the doctrine takes its name: first, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 S.Ct. 362 (1923), then 60 years later, District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983). Both cases fit this pattern: The losing party in state court
We observed in Exxon that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine had been construed by some federal courts "to extend far beyond the contours of the Rooker and Feldman cases." Id., at 283, 125 S.Ct. 1517. Emphasizing "the narrow ground" occupied by the doctrine, id., at 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517, we clarified in Exxon that Rooker-Feldman "is confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state-court losers . . . inviting district court review and rejection of [the state court's] judgments." Ibid.
Skinner's litigation, in light of Exxon, encounters no Rooker-Feldman shoal. "If a federal plaintiff `present[s][an] independent claim,'" it is not an impediment to the exercise of federal jurisdiction that the "same or a related question" was earlier aired between the parties in state court. id., at 292-293, 125 S.Ct. 1517 (quoting GASH Assocs. v. Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726, 728 (C.A.7 1993); first alteration in original); see In re Smith, 349 Fed.Appx. 12, 18 (C.A.6 2009) (Sutton, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (a defendant's federal challenge to the adequacy of state-law procedures for postconviction DNA testing is not within the "limited grasp" of Rooker-Feldman).
When may a state prisoner, complaining of unconstitutional state action, pursue a civil rights claim under § 1983, and when is habeas corpus the prisoner's sole remedy? This Court has several times considered that question. Pathmarking here is Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994). Plaintiff in that litigation was a state prisoner serving time for manslaughter. He brought a § 1983 action for damages, alleging that he had been unlawfully investigated, arrested, tried, and convicted. Although the complaint in Heck sought monetary damages only, not release from confinement, we ruled that the plaintiff could not proceed under § 1983. Any award in his favor, we observed, would "necessarily imply" the invalidity of his conviction. See id., at 487, 114 S.Ct. 2364. When "a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence," the Court held, § 1983 is not an available remedy. Ibid. "But if . . . the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of [his conviction or sentence], the [§ 1983] action should be allowed to proceed. . . ." Ibid.
We summarized the relevant case law most recently in Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 125 S.Ct. 1242, 161 L.Ed.2d 253 (2005). That case involved prisoners who challenged the constitutionality of administrative decisions denying them parole eligibility. They could proceed under § 1983, the Court held, for they sought no "injunction ordering . . . immediate or speedier release into the community," id., at 82, 125 S.Ct. 1242, and "a favorable judgment [would] not `necessarily imply the invalidity of [their] conviction[s] or sentence[s],'" ibid. (quoting Heck, 512 U.S., at 487, 114 S.Ct. 2364; first alteration added).
Measured against our prior holdings, Skinner has properly invoked § 1983. Success in his suit for DNA testing would not "necessarily imply" the invalidity of his conviction. While test results might prove exculpatory, that outcome is hardly inevitable; as earlier observed, see supra, at 1293-1294, results might prove inconclusive or they might further incriminate Skinner. See Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637, 647, 124 S.Ct. 2117, 158 L.Ed.2d 924 (2004) ("[W]e were careful in Heck to
Respondent Switzer nevertheless argues, in line with Fifth Circuit precedent, see Kutzner, 303 F.3d, at 341, that Skinner's request for DNA testing must be pursued, if at all, in an application for habeas corpus, not in a § 1983 action. The dissent echoes Switzer's argument. See post, at 1302. Although Skinner's immediate plea is simply for an order requiring DNA testing, his ultimate aim, Switzer urges, is to use the test results as a platform for attacking his conviction. It suffices to point out that Switzer has found no case, nor has the dissent, in which the Court has recognized habeas as the sole remedy, or even an available one, where the relief sought would "neither terminat[e] custody, accelerat[e] the future date of release from custody, nor reduc[e] the level of custody." Dotson, 544 U.S., at 86, 125 S.Ct. 1242 (SCALIA, J., concurring).
Respondent Switzer and her amici forecast that a "vast expansion of federal jurisdiction. . . would ensue" were we to hold that Skinner's complaint can be initiated under § 1983. See Brief for National District Attorneys Association as Amicus Curiae 8. In particular, they predict a proliferation of federal civil actions "seeking postconviction discovery of evidence [and] other relief inescapably associated with the central questions of guilt or punishment." Id., at 6. These fears, shared by the dissent, post, at 1303, are unwarranted.
In the Circuits that currently allow § 1983 claims for DNA testing, see supra, at 1293, no evidence tendered by Switzer shows any litigation flood or even rainfall. The projected toll on federal courts is all the more implausible regarding DNA testing claims, for Osborne has rejected substantive due process as a basis for such claims. See supra, at 1293-1294.
More generally, in the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), 110 Stat. 1321-66, Congress has placed a series of controls on prisoner suits, constraints designed to prevent sportive filings in federal court. See, e.g., PLRA § 803(d) (adding 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to create new procedures and penalties for prisoner lawsuits under § 1983); PLRA § 804(a)(3) (adding 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) to require any prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis to pay the full filing fee out of a percentage of his prison trust account); PLRA § 804(c)(3) (adding 28 U.S.C. § 1915(f) to require prisoners to pay the full amount of any cost assessed against them out of their prison trust account); PLRA § 804(d) (adding 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) to revoke, with limited exception, in forma pauperis privileges for any prisoner who has filed three or more
Nor do we see any cause for concern that today's ruling will spill over to claims relying on Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963); indeed, Switzer makes no such assertion. Brady announced a constitutional requirement addressed first and foremost to the prosecution's conduct pretrial. Brady proscribes withholding evidence "favorable to an accused" and "material to [his] guilt or to punishment." Cone v. Bell, 556 U.S. ___, ___, 129 S.Ct. 1769, 1772, 173 L.Ed.2d 701 (2009). To establish that a Brady violation undermines a conviction, a convicted defendant must make each of three showings: (1) the evidence at issue is "favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is impeaching"; (2) the State suppressed the evidence, "either willfully or inadvertently"; and (3) "prejudice . . . ensued." Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 281-282, 119 S.Ct. 1936, 144 L.Ed.2d 286 (1999); see Banks v. Dretke, 540 U.S. 668, 691, 124 S.Ct. 1256, 157 L.Ed.2d 1166 (2004).
Unlike DNA testing, which may yield exculpatory, incriminating, or inconclusive results, a Brady claim, when successful postconviction, necessarily yields evidence undermining a conviction: Brady evidence is, by definition, always favorable to the defendant and material to his guilt or punishment. See Strickler, 527 U.S., at 296, 119 S.Ct. 1936. And parties asserting Brady violations postconviction generally do seek a judgment qualifying them for "immediate or speedier release" from imprisonment. See Dotson, 544 U.S., at 82, 125 S.Ct. 1242. Accordingly, Bradyclaims have ranked within the traditional core of habeas corpus and outside the province of § 1983. See Heck, 512 U.S., at 479, 490, 114 S.Ct. 2364 (claim that prosecutors and an investigator had "`knowingly destroyed' evidence `which was exculpatory in nature and could have proved [petitioner's] innocence'" cannot be maintained under § 1983); Amaker v. Weiner, 179 F.3d 48, 51 (C.A.2 1999) ("claim [that] sounds under Brady v. Maryland . . . does indeed call into question the validity of [the] conviction"); Beck v. Muskogee Police Dept., 195 F.3d 553, 560 (C.A.10 1999) (same).
Finally, Switzer presents several reasons why Skinner's complaint should fail for lack of merit. Those arguments, unaddressed by the courts below, are ripe for consideration on remand. "[M]indful that we are a court of review, not of first view," Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 718, n. 7, 125 S.Ct. 2113, 161 L.Ed.2d 1020 (2005), we confine this opinion to the matter on which we granted certiorari and express no opinion on the ultimate disposition of Skinner's federal action.
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For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice THOMAS, with whom Justice KENNEDY and Justice ALITO join, dissenting.
The Court holds that Skinner may bring under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 his "procedural due process" claim challenging "Texas' postconviction DNA statute." Ante, at
The Court has recognized that § 1983 does not reach to the full extent of its "broad language." Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973); see, e.g., Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 485, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994) (§ 1983 should not "expand opportunities for collateral attack"). But this Court has never purported to fully circumscribe the boundaries of § 1983. Cf. id., at 482, 114 S.Ct. 2364. Rather, we have evaluated each claim as it has come before us, reasoning from first principles and our prior decisions.
In Preiser v. Rodriguez, the Court began with the undisputed proposition that a state prisoner may not use § 1983 to "challeng[e] his underlying conviction and sentence on federal constitutional grounds." 411 U.S., at 489, 93 S.Ct. 1827. This included attacks on the trial procedures. See id., at 486, 93 S.Ct. 1827 ("den[ial] [of] constitutional rights at trial"). From there, the Court reasoned that "immediate release from [physical] confinement or the shortening of its duration" also cannot be sought under § 1983. Id., at 489, 93 S.Ct. 1827; see also Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974) (refusing to allow a § 1983 suit for restoration of good-time credits); Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 117 S.Ct. 1584, 137 L.Ed.2d 906 (1997) (refusing to allow a § 1983 procedural challenge to the process
We have not previously addressed whether due process challenges to state collateral review procedures may be brought under § 1983, and I would hold that they may not. Challenges to all state procedures for reviewing the validity of a conviction should be treated the same as challenges to state trial procedures, which we have already recognized may not be brought under § 1983. Moreover, allowing such challenges under § 1983 would undermine Congress' strict limitations on federal review of state habeas decisions. If cognizable at all, Skinner's claim sounds in habeas corpus.
First, for the purposes of the Due Process Clause, the process of law for the deprivation of liberty comprises all procedures—including collateral review procedures—that establish and review the validity of a conviction. This has long been recognized for direct appellate review:
Similarly, although a State is not required to provide procedures for postconviction review, it seems clear that when state collateral review procedures are provided for, they too are part of the "process of law under which [a prisoner] is held in custody by the State." Ibid. As this Court has explained, when considering whether the State has provided all the process that is due in depriving an individual of life, liberty, or property, we must look at both pre-and post-deprivation process. See Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 547, n. 12, 105 S.Ct. 1487, 84 L.Ed.2d 494 (1985) ("[T]he existence of post-termination procedures is relevant to the necessary scope of pretermination procedures"); see also National Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n, 515 U.S. 582, 587, 115 S.Ct. 2351, 132 L.Ed.2d 509 (1995); Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 349, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976). There is no principled reason this Court should refuse to allow § 1983 suits to challenge part of this process—the trial proceedings—but bless the use of § 1983 to challenge other parts.
Collateral review procedures are, of course, "not part of the criminal proceeding itself." Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 557, 107 S.Ct. 1990, 95 L.Ed.2d 539 (1987). But like trial and direct appellate procedures, they concern the validity
Second, "principles of federalism and comity [are] at stake" when federal courts review state collateral review procedures, just as when they review state trial procedures. Osborne, 557 U.S., at ___, 129 S.Ct., at 2324 (ALITO, J., concurring). An attack in federal court on any "state judicial action" concerning a state conviction must proceed with "proper respect for state functions," because the federal courts are being asked to "tr[y] the regularity of proceedings had in courts of coordinate jurisdiction." Preiser, 411 U.S., at 491, 93 S.Ct. 1827 (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted).
Because of these concerns for federal-state comity, Congress has strictly limited the procedures for federal habeas challenges to state convictions and state habeas decisions. Congress requires that before a state prisoner may seek relief in federal court, he must "exhaus[t] the remedies available in the courts of the State." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). And state habeas determinations receive significant deference in subsequent federal habeas proceedings. § 2254(d). These requirements ensure that the state courts have the first opportunity to correct any error with a state conviction and that their rulings receive due respect in subsequent federal challenges.
By bringing a procedural challenge under § 1983, Skinner undermines these restrictions. For example, Skinner has never presented his current challenge to Texas' procedures for postconviction relief to the Texas courts. Allowing Skinner to artfully plead an attack on state habeas procedures instead of an attack on state habeas results undercuts the restrictions Congress and this Court have placed on federal review of state convictions. See Osborne, supra, at ___, 129 S.Ct., at 2324 (ALITO, J., concurring). To allege that the Texas courts erred in denying him relief on collateral review, Skinner could only file a federal habeas petition, with its accompanying procedural restrictions and deferential review. But a successful challenge to Texas' collateral review procedures under § 1983 would impeach the result of collateral review without complying with any of the restrictions for relief in federal habeas.
The majority contends that its decision will not "spill over to claims relying on Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963)." Ante, at 1300; but cf. Osborne, supra, at ___-___, 129 S.Ct., at 2325-26 (ALITO, J., concurring). In truth, the majority provides a roadmap for any unsuccessful state habeas petitioner to relitigate his claim under § 1983: After state habeas is denied, file a § 1983 suit challenging the state habeas process rather than the result. What prisoner would not avail himself of this additional bite at the apple?
The majority relies on Dotson to reach its conclusion. In that case, the plaintiffs alleged due process violations in state parole adjudications and sought injunctive
Dotson does not control this case. Unlike state collateral review, parole does not evaluate the validity of the underlying state conviction or sentence. Collateral review permits prisoners to "attack their final convictions." Osborne, supra, at ___, 129 S.Ct., at 2324 (ALITO, J., concurring). In contrast, parole may provide release, but whether or not a prisoner is paroled in no way relates to the validity of the underlying conviction or sentence. Whatever the correctness of Dotson, parole procedures do not review the validity of a conviction or sentence. For that reason, permitting review of parole procedures does not similarly risk transforming § 1983 into a vehicle for "challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments." Heck, 512 U.S., at 486, 114 S.Ct. 2364.
Contrary to the majority's contention, Dotson did not reduce the question whether a claim is cognizable under § 1983 to a single inquiry into whether the prisoner's claim would "necessarily spell speedier release." See ante, at 1298-1299, n. 12 (internal quotation marks omitted).
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This Court has struggled to limit § 1983 and prevent it from intruding into the boundaries of habeas corpus. In crafting these limits, we have recognized that suits seeking "immediate or speedier release" from confinement fall outside its scope. Dotson, supra, at 82, 125 S.Ct. 1242. We found another limit when faced with a civil action in which "a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence." Heck, supra, at 487, 114 S.Ct. 2364. This case calls for yet another: due process challenges to state procedures used to review the validity of a conviction or sentence. Under that rule, Skinner's claim is not cognizable under § 1983, and the judgment of the Court of Appeals should be affirmed. I respectfully dissent.
Although Article 64 is, for the purposes of Skinner's due process challenge, part of the state collateral review process, I do not suggest that a motion under Article 64 is an "application for . . . collateral review" under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). See Wall v. Kholi, ___ U.S. ___, ___, n. 4, 131 S.Ct. 1278, ___ L.Ed.2d ___, 2011 WL 767700 (2011) (noting that an application for review must "provide a state court with authority to order relief from a judgment"). Texas has divided postconviction discovery of DNA evidence and the application for state habeas into separate proceedings, but both remain parts of the State's collateral review process.