(Boston, Revised 11/13/10) New England Law | Boston: On June 18, 2009, the United States Supreme Court decided District Attorney’s Office for the Third Judicial District v. Osborne and held there is no due process violation in denying a convicted defendant's postconviction request for DNA testing when he claims it will exonerate him. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, "To suddenly constitutionalize this area would short-circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response." Continuing, he stated that "[t]he dilemma [of] how to harness DNA’s power to prove innocence without unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal justice" is a task relegated to the states to decide.
Massachusetts is one of only four states in the nation that has yet to enact a statute addressing postconviction access to forensic and scientific analysis of biological evidence. A bill, co-drafted by Center for Law and Social Responsibility Professor David Siegel, and introduced to the Massachusetts’ House and Senate in January 2009 hopes to change this. The bill outlines the procedures and requirements of not only accessing postconviction DNA evidence, but also guidelines for the preservation biological material and evidence after conviction.
On Tuesday, October 27, 2009, Professor Siegel and exoneree Dennis Maher appeared before the Massachusetts State Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of this DNA legislation. Dennis Maher recounted his story of wrongful conviction and exoneration, and closed by urging the Committee Members that the “State needs this law so what happens to me does not happen again.” Professor Siegel followed by stressing that similar statutes have been enacted in forty-six states, the District of Columbia, and by the federal government. He also outlined that the proposed legislation does not affect the discretion of prosecutors and that overall the process is non-adversarial. Professor Siegel concluded by stating that this legislation is overdue and it was “past the time to act.”
To read more about Dennis Maher’s compelling story of exoneration and the work if the Innocence Project, please click here.