A case heard by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (SJC) on April 3, 2017, has the potential for the SJC to determine the extent of Massachusetts‘s post-conviction DNA statute Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A Section 278A was passed in 2012, and as discussed in Commonwealth v. Moffat, allows a defendant to bring a post-conviction motion for DNA testing if the analysis has the potential to result in evidence material to the identification of the perpetrator of the crime in the underlying case.

Commonwealth v. Moffat

The defendant, Shane Moffat, was convicted on October 11, 2001, of first-degree murder. Moffat filed a 278A motion to conduct post-conviction DNA testing on four cigarette butts found at the scene of the crime. The defendant argues that as he didn’t smoke, the DNA testing on the cigarette butts would show that others were present at the scene of the crime with him, corroborating his argument that other men killed the victim.

The trial court denied Moffat’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing per 278AThe Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Innocence Project has provided the defendant funds to pay for the testing.

Oral Argument at the SJC


As argued on April 3, 2017, the defendant claims that in order for a court to permit post-conviction DNA testing, it is not necessary for there to be a “smoking gun.” Rather, it is enough that the DNA testing results are a link in a chain that could lead to identification of another perpetrator.

The Commonwealth disagrees, and argues that in order for the court to allow the motion it must be shown that the testing will identify who the perpetrator is or is not, rather than that the testing’s results could be used to establish the defendant’s defense. The Commonwealth argues that testing for DNA presence on cigarette butts does not tell you who the shooter is in this case, and thus is not enough to allow the motion for post-conviction DNA testing.

Thus, the SJC has an opportunity to interpret the scope of 278A.

See the oral argument here: http://www.suffolk.edu/sjc/archive/2017/SJC_08733.html

Professor Daniel Medwed of NUSL has provided additional commentary on the case to WGBH here.

The NULR Online Forum will stay posted on this case and the SJC’s decision. Stay connected with the Forum by providing your e-mail address below!