Supreme Judicial Court (November 23, 2010)

The phrase "on grounds which tend to establish innocence" found in the erroneous conviction statute, G.L. c. 258D, is properly understood to mean "grounds resting upon facts and circumstances probative of the proposition that the claimant did not commit the crime."

In these two cases, the Supreme Judicial Court interpreted one of the eligibility criteria found in the erroneous conviction statute, G.L. c. 258D, which requires judicial relief "on grounds which tend to establish innocence."

In Guzman, his conviction was vacated because his defense of misidentification was prejudiced by defense counsel's ineffective assistance of counsel. In Drumgold, the trial judge granted the Commonwealth's motion to vacate the conviction and to grant a new trial on the basis that Drumgold had been deprived of the right to a fair trial.

In reviewing the legislative intent and rules for statutory construction, the Court determined that the eligibility criteria "did not require that the grounds for relief be examined in relation to the strength of the evidence of guilt adduced at the claimant's criminal trial." Moreover, the Court found that the language of the statute "did not import into the eligibility provision a preliminary assessment of the ultimate merits of the claim." The question of whether the grounds for relief "tend to establish" that the claimant did not commit the crime is primarily a question of law.