Massachusetts law about DNA evidence

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on DNA evidence law.

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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 22E State DNA database

MGL c.278A Post-conviction access to forensic and scientific analysis

Massachusetts regulations

515 CMR 1 Collection, submission, receipt, identification, storage, and disposal of DNA samples

515 CMR 2 Testing and analysis, quality assurance, computerized storage, retrieval, and dissemination for the State DNA database

Federal laws

34 USC §§ 12591-12593 DNA identification

34 USC §§ 40701-40744 DNA identification

Rules and guidelines

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 Testimony by expert witnesses

Massachusetts Guide to Evidence, Section 702 Testimony by expert witnesses

Massachusetts Guide to Evidence, Section 703 Bases of opinion testimony by experts

Selected case law

Comm. v. Anitus,  93 Mass. App. Ct. 104  (2018)
"Where the presence of the defendant's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) on moveable objects found at the scene of the crime...did not provide sufficient information to determine when the DNA was deposited on the objects, such DNA evidence alone, or in combination with other attenuated evidence presented by the Commonwealth, was insufficient to sustain the defendant's conviction."

Comm. v. Barnett, 482 Mass. 632 (2019)
Sets forth a model jury instruction for inconclusive DNA evidence: "In this case, you heard expert testimony about inconclusive DNA testing. Where DNA results are deemed inconclusive, the results provide no information whatsoever as to the source of the DNA. Therefore, inconclusive results may not be considered for any identification purpose. Inconclusive DNA results may be considered only if there is a suggestion that the Commonwealth failed to adequately investigate the crime."

Comm. 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.'"

Comm. 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.

Comm. 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.

Comm. v. Johnson, 482 Mass. 830 (2019)
A person who is in custody for failing to register as a sex offender (and not for the original sex offense) has standing to ask for DNA testing of biological material related to his only sex offense.

Comm. 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.

Comm. v. Linton, 483 Mass. 227 (2019)
Provides extensive discussion about types of DNA testing. In this case, the court affirmed the denial of post-conviction testing, because they must consider the evidence that was available to the judge at a given point in time, even if enhanced testing now might represent a material difference from what was available at trial.

Comm. v. Mattei, 455 Mass 840 (2010)
Court found it was reversible error to admit evidence that defendant could not be excluded by DNA evidence in the absence of testimony to explain the statistical significance of the test results.

Comm. v. Moffat, 478 Mass. 292 (2017)
"Discussion of the statutory provisions governing postconviction motions for forensic and scientific testing of evidence."

Comm. v. Tassone, 468 Mass. 391 (2014) 
The prosecution must, at a minimum, call an expert affiliated with the laboratory where the testing took place when offering an opinion about a match.

Comm. v. Williams, 481 Mass. 799 (2019)
G.L. c. 278A provides a way for a convicted defendant who claims to be factually innocent to get postconviction DNA testing to prove his innocence. In this case, the court said that if the defendant is asserting self-defense, which means a crime was never committed, he may also request DNA testing.  

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. Note: "At this point, Rule 702 has superseded Daubert, but the standard of review that was established for Daubert challenges is still appropriate," United States v. Garcia Parra, 402 F.3d 752.

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.

Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. 435 (2013). 
“Court concludes that DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure.”

Murphy v. Dept. of Correction, 429 Mass. 736 (1999)
Court stated that individuals incarcerated on or after 12/29/97 with [1 of 33] designated offenses were required to provide DNA samples under MGLA c. 22E.

Randolph v. Commonwealth, 488 Mass. 1 (2021)
Third parties who are ordered to provide DNA samples must be permitted to appeal before doing so.

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.

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.

DOJ interim policy on emerging method to generate leads for unsolved violent crimes, US Department of Justice.
Policy on forensic genetic genealogy.

Forensic DNA, National Institute of Justice.
The following topics are included: DNA Evidence Basics, Collecting DNA from Arrestees, Research, Evidence Backlogs, Post-Conviction Testing and Wrongful Convictions, Solving Cold Cases With DNA, and DNA and Property Crimes (use the site’s Search feature to locate them). 

Model jury instruction: inconclusive DNA testing, from Comm. v. Barnett, 482 Mass. 632 (2019), FN 8.

Reference manual on scientific evidence, 3rd ed., Federal Judicial Center.
pp. 55–127 — Reference Guide on Forensic Identification Expertise by Paul C. Giannelli, Edward J. Imwinkleried, and Joseph L. Peterson.
pp. 129–210 — Reference Guide on DNA Identification Evidence by David H. Kaye and George Sensabaugh.

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.

What every law enforcement officer should know about DNA evidence, National Institute of Justice.
Explains ways to avoid contamination and includes chart of potential sources of DNA evidence.

Print sources

Crime and consequence: the collateral consequences of criminal conduct, MCLE, 2013. Chapter 5, DNA registry. 

Criminal law, 3rd ed. (Mass Practice v. 32), West Pub. Co., 2001 with supplement. Section 149 Forensic technology—DNA samples.

Criminal practice and procedure, 4th ed. (Mass Practice v. 30B), Thomson Reuters, 2014 with supplement.  Section 42:30.50 Statutory postconviction access to forensic and scientific discovery.

DNA & criminal forensics, MCLE, 2020.

Forensic summit 2014, MCLE., 2014.

Mackenzie L. Brockmyre, "Getting it right: law enforcement's use of ancestry websites to catch criminals," 21 J. HIGH TECH. L. 165 (2021).  Available through the law libraries' document delivery service

McGlynn, Kayleigh E. “Remedying wrongful convictions through DNA testing: expanding post-conviction litigants’ access to DNA database searches to prove innocence”, v. 60 Boston College law review 709 (February 2019).

Massachusetts criminal law: a District Court prosecutor’s guide, Massachusetts Prosecutor’s Guide 2020. TOC: Identification evidence: Forensic identification: DNA Testing.

Massachusetts expert witnesses, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, Chapter 12, DNA Evidence.

Modern scientific evidence:  the law and science of expert testimony, annual, West. Chapter 30, DNA Typing.

Scientific evidence, 6th ed., LexisNexis, 2020. Chapter 18.

Trying murder and other homicide cases in Massachusetts, 4th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, Chapter 16.

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


Last updated: March 10, 2023

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