Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Worcester
Heard: May 9, 2019
found and returned in the Superior Court Department on June
8, 1994. A postconviction motion for deoxyribonucleic acid
testing, filed on August 8, 2018, was considered by Janet
Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct
Gauthier for the defendant. Donna-Marie Haran, Assistant
District Attorney, for the Commonwealth. Meredith Shih, for
Boston Bar Association, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.
Gant, Committee for Public Counsel Services, & Beth L.
Eisenberg, for innocence program of Committee for Public
Counsel Services & another, amici curiae, submitted a
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher,
& Kafker, JJ.
called upon to interpret the standing requirement of G. L. c.
278A (chapter 278A). That statute "allows those who have
been convicted but assert factual innocence to have access to
forensic and scientific testing of evidence and biological
material that has the potential to prove their
innocence." Commonwealth v. Williams, 481 Mass.
799, 799 (2019). "A person may file a motion for
forensic or scientific analysis under" chapter 278A if
that person is, among other requirements, "incarcerated
in a state prison [or] house of correction, is on parole or
probation[, ] or [is one] whose liberty has been otherwise
restrained as the result of a conviction." G. L. c.
278A, § 2 (2).
Earl Johnson is currently incarcerated in Federal prison for
failing to register as a sex offender. He seeks
deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing of biological material
pertaining to his only sex offense, of which he claims
innocence. The Commonwealth argues that Johnson does not
satisfy the requirements of G. L. c. 278A, § 2 (2),
because he is not incarcerated for the crime that is the
subject of his chapter 278A motion. Johnson argues that his
current incarceration for failure to register is "as the
result of" his sex offense, even though he is not
incarcerated for that crime. We agree with Johnson, and
therefore conclude that he has satisfied the requirements of
G. L. c. 278A, § 2 (2), 
was arrested in 1994 after a woman reported that she was
beaten by two men and vaginally raped by one of them. The
woman thought her assailant had ejaculated, and a hospital
nurse provided police with an evidence collection kit. At the
crime scene, police found spots on the ground that may have
was indicted on two counts of aggravated rape and one count
of assault and battery. The aggravated rape charges carried
maximum sentences of life in prison. See G. L. c. 265, §
22 (a.) . Johnson pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent
assault and battery and one count of assault and battery, and
was sentenced to one year in a house of correction with a
credit of 229 days.
decades later, in 2014, Johnson filed pro se a chapter 278A
motion for DNA testing of semen and an evidence collection
kit in the police's possession. The motion was denied
without a hearing. Johnson, now represented by counsel, filed
in 2018 a second motion for DNA testing of the evidence
stated in an affidavit accompanying his second chapter 278A
motion that he was "currently serving a federal prison
sentence . . . for federal failure to register as a sex
offender." See 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a) (2012) (criminal
penalty for knowing failure to "register or update a
registration as required by the Sex Offender Registration and
Notification Act"). Johnson asserted also that he was
"required to register as a sex offender" "[a]s
a result of" his 1994 convictions of indecent assault
and battery, and that he had "no other sex offense
convictions." See Commonwealth v. Sylvester,
476 Mass. 1, 2, 10 (2016) ("indecent assault and
battery" is "a sex offense under G. L. c. 6, §
178C," and "the duty to register as a sex offender
is a 'practically certain' effect of a conviction for
a sex offense as defined in" that
section). Finally, Johnson explained, "I
pleaded guilty even though I was innocent because my attorney
advised me that I already had [eight] months credit, that the
plea would allow me to be out of jail 'right away,'
that the risk of going to trial was a 'life
sentence,' and that this was the case of ...