Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Massachusetts DNA Law Invalidated

In an unpublished ruling, the Superior Court of Massachusetts invalidated a state statute authorizing the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (MDOC) to: define indigence for the purpose of assessing costs of collecting and processing DNA samples; and impound and seize funds from prisoner accounts without their consent for the purpose of paying such costs.

A Massachusetts statutory provision "required persons convicted of certain crimes to submit samples of the deoxyribonucleic acid (`DNA')," and further requires that "the cost of preparing, collecting and processing a DNA sample shall be assessed against the person required to submit a DNA sample, unless such a person is indigent." The cost of collecting and processing DNA samples has been set at $110.

The MDOC adopted a rule authorizing it to establish standards for determining indigence and to seize funds from prisoner accounts to pay the DNA assessments. The MDOC's "DNA Assessment Procedures" provide that an indigent prisoner is on who has had less than ten dollars in his or her account for the preceding 60 days prior to the date of collection.

Several prisoners, represented by Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, brought suit, seeking a declaration that the MDOC rule and the DNA Assessment Procedures were invalid, and an injunction prohibiting the continued enforcement of those provisions.

The Superior Court noted that at least two other judges had previously concluded that MDOC's reliance on the rule and its DNA Assessment Procedures violated the DNA statutes. Ultimately, the court found that the rule was "ultra vires and void" and that injunctive relief was warranted because: "(1) DOC is continuing to enforce the regulation and procedures notwithstanding that at least two judges of the Superior Court have ruled that the indigence provisions are in conflict with the express language of the statute; (2) the evidence present at trial established that enforcement of the regulation is irreparably harming indigent inmates because the Commissioner is freezing their accounts and seizing their funds without authority ... and (3) enforcement of the regulation has led to the filing of hundreds of civil cases and motions in criminal cases challenging the impoundment of accounts and seizure of funds to pay the DNA costs imposing a substantial burden on the Superior Court." See: Welsh v. Department of Corrections, et al. , Mass. Superior Court No. 4998-F (3/25/01).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Welsh v. Department of Corrections