HOD endorses legislation affecting 
juveniles, DNA testing appeals

Issue September 2011 By Bill Archambeault

The Massachusetts Bar Association's governing body, the House of Delegates, unanimously endorsed two pieces of legislation at a meeting on July 26 in Dedham.

The Criminal Justice Section Council won HOD's endorsement for a bill pending in the Legislature that would allow offenders access to post-conviction DNA testing if they can meet certain criteria. A majority of other states have adopted similar measures. The endorsement calls on the state to provide unspecified funding to properly store biological evidence at the local and state level.

"There is a series of thresholds that would have to be met … to make sure the courts are not lightly overturning convictions," said Michael E. Fabbri, chair of the Criminal Justice Section Council.

The Juvenile and Child Welfare Section Council gained HOD's support in principle for legislation that would raise the threshold for treating alleged offenders as adults from 17 to 18. Putting 17-year-olds under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court would bring Massachusetts in line with the federal government and 38 states. It would also address an inconsistency in Massachusetts, which does not treat 17-year-olds as adults in most legal matters.

The bill would not change the law mandating that 17-year-olds accused of murder be tried in adult court, or prevent a 17-year-old accused of other serious crimes from being indicted as a youthful offender and given an adult sentence.

Region 7 Delegate Lee J. Gartenberg said that the system would benefit from shifting the focus from adult jurisdiction to juvenile, and Peter T. Elikann, chair of the General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Section Council, said the change would reduce recidivism rates.

"It's not a question of pandering to or doing a favor for these juveniles, it's doing a favor for ourselves," Elikann, a criminal defense attorney, said.

Martin W. Healy, the MBA's chief operating officer and chief legal counsel, told delegates about the progress of a number of issues in the Legislature, including court reform and alimony reform. He also said that averting the layoffs and courthouse closings the state's top judges warned about recently would require supplemental funding in the fall of around $20 million.

Officers discussed new programs, including the MBA Pro Bono Prescription, in collaboration with the Medical-Legal Partnership Massachusetts network, and MBA Mentoring Circles, to pair experienced and newer attorneys. Treasurer Robert L. Holloway Jr. reported that membership retention and recruitment is on track, and successful fundraising for the Centennial Ball created a surplus that allowed for the creation of a $50,000 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Centennial Scholarship fund.