STATUTE SETTING CRITERIA FOR POST CONVICTION ANALYSIS OF SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE CLARIFIED

In Commonwealth v. Wade (2016) the SJC reversed the judge’s denial of the defendant’s postconviction motion for scientific testing of biological evidence where after the defendant had “demonstrated that ‘the requested analysis had not yet been developed at the time of conviction.”’  ”The judge denied the motion “on the erroneous ground that the defendant also was required to establish that the enumerated reason was the ‘primary reason’ that his trial attorney did not seek the requested analysis.” The facts are that in 1997, the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder on a theory of felony-murder, predicated on his conviction of aggravated rape. “Since 2002, the defendant has been seeking postconviction testing of physical evidence introduced at his trial.” Under the statutory framework, the defendant satisfied the threshold criteria for procuring an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Massachusetts statutes.  “At such a hearing, the moving party must establish by a preponderance of the evidence each of the six factors set forth in the statute. The third factor requires a moving party to demonstrate that ‘the evidence or biological material has not been subjected to the requested analysis for any of the five reasons’ listed. The first of those reasons is “‘that the requested analysis had not yet been developed at the time of the defendant’s conviction.’” Following the evidentiary hearing in this case, the judge found that the requested analysis had not been developed at the time of the defendant’s conviction, thereby finding that the defendant had satisfied the undeveloped analysis prong…. But the judge rejected the defendant’s assertion that he need only satisfy one of the reasons set forth in order to satisfy the statute.  According to the judge, ‘the proper inquiry under is what is the primary “reason,” why the material was not previously subjected to the requested analysis.’” The judge’s pursuit of that additional inquiry led to his eventual denial of the defendant’s motion for scientific testing.

In its decision reversing the denial of the motion, the SJC noted that the statute  “mandates that the judge‘shall allow’ the requested scientific testing if the moving party establishes, in addition to the other required factors, that the testing was not conducted previously ‘for any of the five reasons’ enumerated.  In the Court’s view, “the plain meaning of the phrase ‘for any of the reasons’ is that the requirement is satisfied when any one of the several enumerated alternatives is met.” Contrary to the judge’s erroneous determination, there is no requirement under the statute “that the moving party prove ‘the primary reason’ among” the listed alternatives.

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