Legislation drafted by the Boston Bar Association, Senate Bill 1987, An Act to Provide Access to Scientific and Forensic Analysis, today was passed unanimously by the Senate. Sparked by the BBA’s 2009 report — Getting It Right: Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts — this legislation has been a major public policy priority of the BBA.
The bill allows convicted people to seek DNA testing on evidence that could prove their innocence, creating a straightforward procedure for obtaining post-conviction forensic and scientific testing of evidence in cases of possible wrongful conviction. It also establishes a process for prosecutors to ensure the reliability and materiality of this evidence in identifying the perpetrator, and for judges to conduct a focused and discrete inquiry to assess these requests.
Today’s Senate vote puts Massachusetts on the path to avoiding the dubious distinction of being the last state in the country without a statutory mechanism for persons claiming innocence to gain access to DNA evidence. When passed, this legislation will dramatically reduce the time and complexity for handling these cases.
Members of the BBA Task Force were in the Senate gallery watching the debate unfold. On the Senate floor Senator Cynthia Creem recognized Betty Ann Waters, a woman who decided to become a lawyer for the sole purpose of proving her brother’s innocence. Ms. Waters was able to locate DNA evidence that ultimately exonerated her brother.