Massachusetts law about DNA evidence

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

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

42 USC 14131-14136e 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

Commonwealth 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."

Commonwealth 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.'"

Commonwealth 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.

Commonwealth 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.

Commonwealth 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.

Commonwealth 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.

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

Commonwealth 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.

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.

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.

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

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

ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: DNA Evidence, American Bar Association, 2007

Forensic Summit 2014, MCLE. , 2014

Scientific Evidence, by Paul C. Giannelli and Edward J. Imwinkelried, LexisNexis, 2012

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



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Within Massachusetts only


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Last updated: April 12, 2019