A significant effort to enact a bill allowing convicted inmates to gain access to DNA testing in order to prove their innocence has passed both branches of the Massachusetts Legislature and been signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick. Under the provisions of the new law, a convict who believes that DNA testing could establish his or her innocence will be given the right to request that a court order DNA tests of the evidence that police and prosecutors introduced at trial against the defendant.
This new law is especially important. While the public wants guilty criminals locked up, especially those convicted of violent crime, that same public appears to have nowhere near the appetite to hear the true stories of prison inmates who have been wrongfully convicted based on poor and shoddy forensic and scientific evidence. As a Norfolk County Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I can assure you, this type of injustice happens far more often than people think. If anyone doubts this, they should visit and study the shocking stories of people who have been convicted and locked up in prison based upon faulty scientific evidence, at The Innocence Project. Far more than one conviction involving Massachusetts sexual assault & rape charges, Massachusetts murder charges, Massachusetts drug charges and Massachusetts OUI/DWI charges have been later discovered to have been based on faulty scientific evidence.
The law requires that any convict requesting DNA analysis must satisfy two prerequisites: First, the inmate must demonstrate that the particular DNA testing that is being requested was not scientifically or pragmatically available when the inmate was convicted. Second, the inmate must persuade a judge that the requested DNA testing could possibly produce new evidence that could potentially exonerate the inmate or alter his or her original conviction. Hence, the bill is not a “free pass” for every prison inmate who thinks DNA testing can reverse his or her conviction. A judge stands between the inmate and approval of the testing, and they will apply the two threshold tests very carefully.
As a Westwood and Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I think this new law strikes a careful and measured balance between appropriate punishment of who have been convicted on the basis of sound legal and scientific evidence, and the equally desirable goal of allowing innocent convicts to prove their innocence with the best scientific evidence available.