Innocence Program Resources
The CPCS Innocence Program represents indigent defendants who have been convicted of Massachusetts state crimes and who claim actual innocence. In order to qualify for assistance from the Innocence Program, an applicant must make an initial showing that some evidence exists, or might exist, that could possibly establish innocence. Cases involving serious felonies for which the defendant is currently serving a substantial sentence receive highest priority. A case may be eligible for assistance from the CPCS Innocence Program whether or not DNA evidence might be available to establish innocence.
Application for CPCS Innocence Program services may be made by counsel or by defendants. We encourage counsel to refer any case which meets the criteria set out below, even if counsel no longer represents the defendant. If counsel refers a case which is accepted by the CPCS Innocence Program then ordinarily referring counsel will continue to represent the defense with the assistance of the Innocence Program. If a defendant’s direct application is accepted by the Innocence Program, then counsel certified by CPCS will be assigned to represent the defendant.
DNA cases. One focus of the Innocence Program is to identify cases in which DNA testing may lead to evidence that supports a post-conviction claim of innocence. Our review of DNA cases is guided by the requirements of Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 278A, which newly governs requests for access to evidence for forensic or scientific analysis needed to establish innocence. Eligible cases include those in which evidence was not previously subjected to DNA testing and those in which evidence was subjected to older DNA testing methods with inconclusive or insufficiently discriminating results.
Below are links to training materials that will assist you with screening and litigating Chapter 278A cases:
- Burdens of Proof Under Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 278A
- 278A Litigation: Practical Tips – CPCS IP Presentation – Middlesex Training (2015)
- Evaluating 278A Cases – MSP Lab Presentation – Middlesex Training (2015)
- MDAO Conviction Integrity Program (CIP) Handout on 278A Issues
- MDAO CIP Handout on 278A Motion Review Process
- Best Practices Manual for Evidence Collection, Handling, Storage, and Retention in Massachusetts
Funding for DNA expert assistance in support of requests for access and testing under Chapter 278A is available on a limited, case-by-case basis as a result of federal grant awards from the National Institute of Justice.
Flawed forensics. Another focus of the Innocence Program is to identify cases in which the introduction of potentially flawed or invalid forensic “science” at trial may have contributed to a wrongful conviction. Examples of potentially flawed or recently invalidated “scientific” evidence include:
- Arson (opinion that a fire was intentionally set)
- Bite mark identification
- Compositional bullet lead analysis
- False Confession evidence
- Fingerprint identification
- Hair microscopy identification
- Tool mark identification
- Opinion as to cause of death, including but not limited to “Shaken Baby Syndrome” or “Abusive Head Trauma”
- Opinion as to time of death
Funding for expert assistance to evaluate and present claims involving the admission of flawed forensic evidence is available on a limited, case-by-case basis.
Eyewitness identification and investigation-based claims of innocence. The Innocence Program also aims to identify cases in which:
- Eyewitness identification testimony played a key role in a conviction
- One or more key witnesses have recanted
- A third party has reliably confessed to the crime
- Newly discovered exculpatory evidence bearing on innocence has emerged
- Misconduct by the police or prosecution may have contributed to a wrongful conviction, including by withholding of exculpatory evidence.
Funding for expert assistance and investigation resources are available on a limited, case by case basis in order to develop claims of innocence that include some or all of the above issues.
The CPCS Innocence Program is supported by Grant Nos. 2014-DY-BX-K003 and 2017-DY-BX-K001 awarded by the National Institute for Justice, and by Grant No. 2015-4098 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Program, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the SMART Office, and the Office for Victims of Crime. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not represent the official position or policies of the United States Department of Justice.