Commonwealth v. Clark, SJC–11815.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtSPINA, J.
Citation34 N.E.3d 1,472 Mass. 120
Docket NumberSJC–11815.
Decision Date09 July 2015

472 Mass. 120
34 N.E.3d 1

Tyrone J. CLARK.


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

Submitted March 2, 2015.
Decided July 9, 2015.

34 N.E.3d 4

Neil D. Raphael, Boston, for Tyrone J. Clark.

Donna Jalbert Patalano, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Lisa M. Kavanaugh & Ira L. Gant, Committee for Public Counsel Services, & Denise McWilliams & Chauncey B. Wood, Boston, for Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.




On January 23, 1974, a Suffolk County jury convicted Tyrone J. Clark of rape,

34 N.E.3d 5

G.L. c. 265, § 22 ; unarmed robbery, G.L. c. 265, § 19 ; and kidnapping, G.L. c. 265, § 26. The Appeals Court affirmed the convictions in a published opinion. See Commonwealth v. Clark, 3 Mass.App.Ct. 481, 334 N.E.2d 68 (1975). On January 14, 2000, he filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied. Clark was paroled in 2005, but his parole was revoked when he pleaded guilty on May 25, 2006, to larceny over $250, G.L. c. 266, § 30(1).

In 2012, the Legislature enacted G.L. c. 278A, “An Act providing access to forensic and scientific analysis” (act). St. 2012, c. 38. “The enactment, which occurred in the wake of national recognition that ‘DNA testing has an unparalleled ability both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty,’ District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U.S. 52, 55, 129 S.Ct. 2308, 174 L.Ed.2d 38 (2009), permits access to forensic and scientific evidence on the filing of a motion by an individual who has been convicted of a criminal offense, who consequently has been incarcerated, and who asserts factual innocence.” Commonwealth v. Wade, 467 Mass. 496, 497, 5 N.E.3d 816 (2014). See G.L. c. 278A, § 2. The purpose of the act was “to remedy the injustice of wrongful convictions of factually innocent persons by allowing access to analyses of biological material with newer forensic and scientific techniques ... [that] provide a more reliable basis for establishing a factually correct verdict than the evidence available at the time of the original conviction.” Wade, supra at 504, 5 N.E.3d 816, quoting 2011 Senate Doc. No. 753 and 2011 House Doc. No. 2165. The act created a process, separate from the trial and any subsequent proceedings challenging an underlying conviction, that permits

forensic and scientific analysis of evidence or biological material, the results of which could support a motion for a new trial. See G.L. c. 278A, §§ 3, 6, 7 ; Wade, supra at 505, 5 N.E.3d 816.

On August 5, 2013, Clark filed in the Superior Court a postconviction motion pursuant to G.L. c. 278A, § 3 (§ 3 motion), for forensic or scientific analysis of certain evidence presented at his trial, and for discovery regarding the location of other items that were referenced at trial but not admitted in evidence. More specifically, he sought deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing of the handle of a kitchen knife that the victim purportedly grabbed from her assailant and stabbed into the assailant's shoulder. He also sought discovery concerning the victim's bloody clothing, a bloody towel, and a pair of men's socks, all of which, in Clark's view, might contain DNA evidence and should be made available to him for potential testing under G.L. c. 278A. In connection with his § 3 motion, Clark filed an affidavit stating that he is factually innocent of the crimes of which he was convicted. The Commonwealth opposed Clark's motion, contending that Clark had not shown how forensic testing of the knife handle would provide evidence material to the identification of the perpetrator of the crimes, that Clark had shown no chain of custody for the knife handle, that the jurors had based their verdicts on compelling identification evidence, and that the Commonwealth did not possess any of the items for which Clark sought discovery. Following a hearing, a judge, who was not the trial judge, denied Clark's § 3 motion.1

Clark appealed the judge's order,2 the case was entered in the Appeals Court,

34 N.E.3d 6

and we transferred it to this court on our own motion. Clark contends on appeal that the judge misinterpreted the requirements for postconviction DNA analysis as set forth in the plain language of G.L. c. 278A and, consequently, erred in denying his motion for such testing and for related discovery. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that Clark met the requirements of G.L. c. 278A, § 3 ; that the judge erred in determining that Clark was required to establish the existence of biological

material on the handle of the knife; that the judge properly denied Clark's request for discovery; and that the judge must make findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding whether Clark satisfied G.L. c. 278A, § 7 (b ) (2), (3), (5), and (6). Accordingly, we reverse the judge's order denying Clark's § 3 motion, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.3

1. Statutory framework. Before setting forth the underlying facts in this case, we begin with an overview of G.L. c. 278A, so as to put the present proceedings in context. In Wade, a case that raised issues of first impression regarding the proper interpretation of G.L. c. 278A, this court considered the threshold requirements that must be met by a party seeking forensic or scientific analysis pursuant to § 3, and articulated the standard of review for determining whether those requirements have been satisfied. See Wade, 467 Mass. at 501–506, 5 N.E.3d 816. We stated that G.L. c. 278A “creates a two-step procedure for requesting DNA testing or analysis. First, a threshold determination is made by the court in which the conviction was entered as to whether the motion meets the preliminary criteria set forth in G.L. c. 278A, § 3. If those criteria are met, a hearing ‘shall’ be conducted pursuant to G.L. c. 278A, §§ 6 and 7, to determine whether a petitioner has established by a preponderance of the evidence sufficient facts for a judge to order DNA testing or further discovery.” Id. at 501, 5 N.E.3d 816.

With respect to the threshold inquiry, a person seeking relief under G.L. c. 278A shall file a motion that includes all of the information set forth in § 3 (b ),4 and,

34 N.E.3d 7

“when relevant, shall include specific references to the record in the underlying case,” or to supporting affidavits “signed by a person with personal knowledge of the factual basis of the motion.” G.L. c. 278A, § 3 (b ).

Accompanying the motion shall be “an affidavit stating that the moving party is factually innocent of the offense of conviction and that the requested forensic or scientific analysis will support the claim of innocence.” Id. at § 3 (d ). The Commonwealth “may provide a response to the motion, to assist the court in considering whether the motion meets the requirements [of § 3 ].” Id. at § 3 (e ). Then, a judge shall review the motion expeditiously and “shall dismiss, without prejudice, any such motion without a hearing if the court determines, based on the information contained in the motion, that the motion does not meet the requirements set forth in [§ 3 ].” Id. The court “shall notify” the parties as to whether the motion is dismissed, or whether it is sufficient to proceed to the next level of review under § 7. Id.

The threshold inquiry made pursuant to § 3 is “limited, based primarily on the moving party's filings, and ... essentially nonadversarial.” Wade, 467 Mass. at 503, 5 N.E.3d 816. At this first stage, “a moving party is not required to ‘establish any of the [statutory] factors' alleged in the § 3 motion.” Id. at 503–504, 5 N.E.3d 816, quoting G.L. c. 278A, § 3 (c ). See Commonwealth v. Donald, 468 Mass. 37, 41, 8 N.E.3d 727 (2014) (“a moving party is required only to point to the existence of specific information that satisfies the statutory requirements”). “Viewed in light of the act as a whole, the Legislature clearly intended that, to proceed to a hearing, a § 3 motion requires only the limited showing set forth explicitly in G.L. c. 278A, § 3 (b ) and (d ), and review of the motion in order to determine whether a hearing will be conducted is confined to the assertions in the motion, the affidavits and supporting documents attached thereto, and any response that may be filed by the Commonwealth to assist the court.” Wade, supra at 504, 5 N.E.3d 816. A judge conducting an inquiry under § 3 “is not called upon to make credibility determinations,

or to consider the relative weight of the evidence or the strength of the case presented against the moving party at trial.” Id. at 505–506, 5 N.E.3d 816.

If a motion meets the requirements of § 3, then a judge “shall order a hearing on the motion.” G.L. c. 278A, § 6 (a ). The Commonwealth “shall file a response with the court within [sixty] days” after the court issues notice of further proceedings, id. at § 4 (b ), and “shall include any specific legal or factual objections” it may have “to the requested analysis.” Id. at § 4 (c ). After reviewing the motion, together with the...

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