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Massachusetts Law About DNA Evidence

Massachusetts Laws

Massachusetts Regulations

Federal Laws

42 USC 14131-14136e DNA Identification

Selected Case Law

District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial District et al v. Osborne, 557 US __ (June 18, 2009). There is "no constitutional right to obtain postconviction access to the State’s evidence for DNA testing."

Commonwealth v. Dixon, 458 Mass. 446 (2010). The return of a DNA indictment tolled the 15 year statute of limitations in a rape case. "Probably more than proper names or physical characteristics, DNA profiles unassailably fulfil the constitutional requirement that an indictment provide 'words of description which have particular reference to the person whom the Commonwealth seeks to convict.'"

Commonwealth v. Duarte, 56 Mass. App. Ct. 714 (2002) Expert testimony regarding DNA evidence admitted at trial did not require expert to be present during testing where expert had knowledge of DNA testing procedures, access to analyst's notes and knowledge of training and proficiency testing required.

Commonwealth v. Hill, 54 Mass. App. Ct. 690 (2002) Held that DNA testing conducted in accordance with valid scientific theory and reliable methodology provided a sound basis upon which an expert may formulate an opinion.

Commonwealth v. Lanigan, 419 Mass. 15 (1994) Held that reliability of scientific evidence (here, DNA evidence) can be shown by a means other than that of showing "general acceptance" by the scientific community.

Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) Court found that the "general acceptance" principle regarding scientific evidence (including DNA evidence) was not necessary as a precursor to the admissibility of such evidence under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Landry v. Attorney General, 429 Mass. 336 (1999) Court found that the involuntary taking of blood, without probable cause, did not violate the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or Article 14 of the Commonwealth's Constitution, as this type of search is not unreasonable.

Murphy v. Dept. of Correction, 429 Mass. 736 (1999) Court stated that individuals incarcerated on or after 12/29/97 with [one of thirty-three] designated offenses were required to provide DNA samples under MGLA c. 22E.

U.S. v. Lowe, 954 F.Supp. 401 (D. Mass. 1996) Held that DNA profiling evidence from Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) analysis is sufficiently reliable to be admissible, and that the risk of contamination did not render the test results unreliable.

U.S. v. Shea, 957 F.Supp. 331 (D. N.H., 1997) Held that Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method of DNA testing was scientifically reliable and so met the Daubert standard for the test to be admissible.

Other Web Sources

CODIS: Combined DNA Indexing System, FBI. The national database of DNA evidence, "CODIS enables federal, state, and local crime labs to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically, thereby linking crimes to each other and to convicted offenders." Site includes statistics, standards and more.

Forensic DNA, National Institute of Justice. The following topics are included: DNA Evidence Basics, Collecting DNA from Arrestees, Research, Evidence Backlogs, Postconviction Testing and Wrongful Convictions, Solving Cold Cases With DNA, and DNA and Property Crimes

How DNA Evidence Works, How Stuff Works.com. A clear explanation of the science behind DNA evidence.

Insuring the Reliability of DNA Test Results: Has It Been Done in Massachusetts?, by Shaun S. McLean, Mass. Bar Association Section Review, 2003. Analyzes relevant case law and suggests that DNA results should be subject to scrutiny, and that a "showing must be made that each test has been reliably conducted."

Understanding DNA Evidence: A Guide for Victim Service Providers, US Department of Justice. Fairly detailed guide to the collection of DNA evidence, sources of contamination, interpreting results, matches and more.

Vance Report: Final Report and Recommendations Regarding Vance's Comprehensive Operational Assessment of the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory System, June 2007. Report details issues at the crime lab and makes several key recommendations. According to the report, the lab has "899 unassigned and unworked criminal cases, approximately 4,000 unassigned and unworked sexual assault kits, 2,000 assigned DNA cases, but unworked DNA cuttings." There are "old and unassigned DNA cuttings from more than 10,000 cases. Potential cases having DNA evidence total more than 16,000 at the present time."

Print Sources

ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: DNA Evidence, American Bar Association, 2007

Scientific Evidence, by Paul C. Giannelli and Edward J. Imwinkelried, LexisNexis, 2007.

Fingerprints, DNA and Computer Evidence: MCLE Crime Lab, MCLE, 2003.

"The Great Detective," 87 ABA Journal 36 (April 2001)

"Landry v. Attorney General: DNA Databanks Hold a Meeting on Privacy Rights," 44 Boston Bar Journal 18 (Jan.-Feb. 2000)

True Witness: Cops, Courts, Science and the Battle Against Misidentification, by James M. Doyle. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

"Validity, Construction, and Operation of State DNA Databases," 76 ALR 5th 239