In mid-March, the Massachusetts SJC handed down Commonwealth v. Robert D. Wade, the first case that relied on the 2012 law codified at G.L.c. 278A “An Act providing access to forensic and scientific analysts.” The court held for the defendant, granting him an evidentiary hearing on the use of post-conviction DNA tests of evidence collected in 1993. In its decision, the SJC relied extensively on legislative history and legislative intent to interpret C. 278A.
We are pleased with the SJC’s ruling and proud to have played a role in this process over the course of nearly seven years. Here’s a brief recap:
- In 2008, we formed the “BBA’s Task Force to Improve the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System,” the broadest group of criminal justice participants ever assembled by a Bar organization to address wrongful convictions.
- In 2010, under the leadership of its co-chairs David Meier and Martin F. Murphy, the Task Force developed recommendations for the criminal justice system in its report, Getting it Right: Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts.
- In the spring of 2011, the BBA’s bill on access to DNA evidence, borne out of its Task Force recommendations, started to gain momentum in the legislature. Sponsored by Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative John Fernandes, the bill was reported favorable out of the Judiciary Committee. At the time, Massachusetts was one of only two states that did not guarantee access to DNA testing.
- That summer, the Senate passed the bill unanimously.
- In early 2012, the House took up the bill and achieved the same result – unanimous approval.
- The Governor signed the bill shortly thereafter and innocence programs sprang into action to represent clients under the new legislation.
Our work is having a real impact today. Hard work of legal experts, persistence and patience with the legislative process really can advance the cause of justice and improve the criminal justice system.
- Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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