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Commonwealth v. Putnam

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

April 9, 2019

COMMONWEALTH
v.
STEVEN M. PUTNAM.

         Evidence, Scientific test, Relevancy and materiality. Practice, Criminal, Postconviction relief.

          Merritt Schnipper for the defendant.

          Donna-Marie Haran, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Lisa M. Kavanaugh, Committee for Public Counsel Services, Stephanie Roberts Hartung, Isaac N. Saidel-Goley, Sarah L. Rosenbluth, Sara J. van Vliet, & Sharon L. Beckman, for New England Innocence Project & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

         In March 2006, after a jury trial, the defendant was found guilty of home invasion, armed assault in a dwelling, rape, and assault and battery; he was sentenced to from twenty to twenty-five years in State prison. The defendant here appeals from the denial of a motion filed pursuant to G. L. c. 278A (chapter 278A) seeking postconviction forensic and scientific testing of evidence and biological material to support a motion for a new trial. We decide this appeal on the basis of our opinion today in Commonwealth v. Williams, 481 Mass. (2019), [1]

         Facts and prior proceedings.

         The evidence presented at the defendant's trial is summarized in Commonwealth v. Putnam, 75 Mass.App.Ct. 472, 473-476 (2009), the affirmance of the defendant's convictions on direct appeal. We provide a condensed version of events as the jury could have found them.

         On the evening of January 26, 2004, the defendant, with whom the victim was acquainted, knocked at the victim's door, seeking to speak with her. After initially turning the defendant away, the victim allowed the defendant to enter her home, and the two spoke for a short period of time. When the victim attempted to make a telephone call, the defendant grabbed the victim, punched her in the face, and threw the telephone to the floor. After beating the victim, the defendant pulled a knife out of his pocket and stated, "You can make this hard or you can make this easy."

         The defendant tore off some of the victim's clothing and digitally raped her. When the defendant paused to pull his shirt off, the victim fled. Naked from the waist down, the victim ran to a neighbor's house; the neighbor called the police, who arrived at the scene within minutes.

         At trial, the defendant testified in his own defense that the physical contact between him and the victim was consensual and did not include penetration. As for the knife, the defendant testified that he had tried to give it to the victim because he was afraid that he would hurt himself.

         The defendant filed the instant chapter 278A motion pro se in July 2016, and he supplemented it once he was appointed counsel. In his motion, the defendant asserted his factual innocence, claiming that he did not enter the victim's home with the intent to commit a crime (and thus was not guilty of home invasion); that he neither used force on nor caused injury to the victim (and thus was not guilty of either armed assault or assault and battery); and that he did not penetrate the victim (and thus was not guilty of rape). Among other things, the defendant further asserted, pursuant to G. L. c. 278A, § 3 (b) (4), that the requested forensic testing of clothing collected from the victim, and the testing of the sexual assault evidence collection kit, had the potential to result in evidence material to the defendant's identification as the perpetrator.

         The Commonwealth opposed the defendant's motion, arguing principally that the defendant's claim that no crime occurred was categorically barred from chapter 278A relief because it did not put identity at issue. In denying the defendant's motion, the judge stated in part:

"The defendant's motion and affidavits do not meet the requirements of [G. L. c. 278A, ยง 3 (b) (4), ] in that the defendant has not met his burden to show whether any test results could be material to the question of identity of the perpetrator. Here the issue is not identity, but ...

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