The Massachusetts Appeals Court today ruled that the Commonwealth can prosecute a criminal defendant after connecting him to a crime scene by his illegally-obtained DNA. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Lunden.
The defendant is currently under indictment for drug crimes and multiple counts of breaking and entering in the nighttime. He has a long history of committing crimes and serving time in jail. In September of 2000, the defendant was in state prison after being convicted of a civil rights violation. At that time, Massachusetts law required defendants convicted of 33 different crimes to submit DNA samples. A civil rights violation was not included in the list of 33 crimes, but the prison took the defendant’s blood in error and included his DNA profile in the state database. In 2004, the Massachusetts Legislature changed the law to require any person convicted of a felony, or any person who was on probation for committing a felony, to submit a DNA sample. The defendant fell into that category of individuals, as he was then on probation for unarmed robbery. The defendant was convicted of felonies twice more in 2005, but the Commonwealth did not take another blood sample since the defendant had already had his blood taken (unlawfully) in 2000.
In 2006, law enforcement officials learned that DNA found at various crime scenes in Middlesex and Bristol counties matched the defendant’s DNA profile that was obtained from his illegally-obtained blood sample. After the defendant was arrested and taken into custody for these new crimes in 2007, the Commonwealth obtained a new blood sample and confirmed that the defendant’s DNA profile was a match for the DNA found at the crime scenes. The Commonwealth wants to use the results of the 2007 DNA profile against the defendant at his upcoming trial.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress the 2007 DNA evidence, arguing that it was only obtained after he was linked to the crimes by his illegally-obtained DNA profile in 2000. A Middlesex Superior Court judge allowed the defendant’s motion to suppress and the Commonwealth appealed. The Appeals Court reversed.
There is a legal principle called “fruit of the poisonous tree” which stands for the proposition that if illegally-obtained evidence leads to additional evidence, the additional evidence cannot be used at a defendant’s trial because it is the result of the first illegality. The Appeals Court concluded that although the defendant’s blood was illegally taken in 2000, there were subsequent intervening events that made the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine inapplicable. After the defendant’s blood was initially taken, there were at least three other occasions where the defendant was obligated to supply a sample of his DNA. In 2005, the Department of Correction would have lawfully taken the defendant’s blood if the defendant had not already provided a DNA sample in 2000. As a result of the passage of time and the change in Massachusetts law regarding the DNA database, the initial illegal conduct did not taint the legally-obtained blood sample from 2007. Additionally, the Appeals Court pointed out that there was never any suggestion that law enforcement purposely committed misconduct.
The current law in Massachusetts requires every person convicted of a felony to submit a DNA sample for inclusion in the state database. It is a factor that everyone must consider before deciding to plead guilty to a felony. Such a plea will result in the government forever having a copy of the defendant’s DNA profile.