Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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After a jury-waived trial, Defendant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress a firearm and statements he made after his arrest, arguing that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop of him in connection with a breaking and entering that had occurred in a nearby home approximately thirty minutes earlier. The Appeals Court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the conviction, holding that the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress because the police lacked reasonable suspicion for the investigatory stop. Remanded. View "Commonwealth v. Warren" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the conviction, holding (1) the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant’s failure to properly perform a breathalyzer test after giving consent, as the evidence was not inadmissible as refusal evidence; (2) the admission of the police-appointed interpreter’s English language version of Defendant’s statements did not violate the rule against hearsay, as the interpreter acted as Defendant’s agent under the circumstances of this case; (3) Defendant’s unpreserved confrontation claim was unavailing; (4) the evidence was sufficient to establish Defendant’s impairment; and (5) there was no prejudicial error in the jury instructions. View "Commonwealth v. Adonsoto" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against against her employers (Defendants), alleging that she had been subject to a sexually hostile or offensive work environment. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, finding that Defendants were liable for $40,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. The superior court judge granted Defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict in part, allowing the motion as to the award of punitive damages but denying it with respect to the award of compensatory damages. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the award of compensatory damages, reversed the judge’s order granting judgment notwithstanding the verdict as to the punitive damages award, and reinstated the jury’s verdict, holding that, based on the evidence, the jury could have found that Defendants failed to take adequate remedial measures after being put on notice of a sexually hostile or offensive work environment and that the failure was egregious or outrageous. Remanded for calculation of Plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and consideration of Defendant’s motion for remittitur as to the punitive damages award. View "Gyulakian v. Lexus of Watertown, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant was arrested for operating while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Defendant was not given an opportunity to consult with counsel before being required to decide whether to submit to a breathalyzer test. Defendant moved to suppress the results of the breathalyzer test, arguing that she had a right to counsel before deciding whether to submit to the breathalyzer test. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court reported a question of law asking whether the 2003 amendment to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 24, the statute establishing the offense of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, now makes the decision by a defendant whether or not to take a breath test is a critical stage of the criminal proceedings requiring that the defendant be advised of his or her right to counsel prior to making that decision. The Supreme Judicial Court answered the reported question in the negative, holding that there is no right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution or article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights before a defendant decides whether to submit to a breathalyzer test. View "Commonwealth v. Neary-French" on Justia Law

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In a probation surrender proceeding based on the use of marijuana, purportedly for medical purposes, the judge found Defendant in violation of probation for the use of marijuana, terminated his probation, and imposed a prison sentence. Defendant, who was a qualifying patient under the medical marijuana law (act), appealed, arguing (1) his sentence violated his right to the medical use of marijuana without adverse legal consequences, and (2) counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to assert the immunity provision of the act. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) under the circumstances of this case, the judge did not err in finding Defendant in violation of his probation; and (2) there was no prejudice in counsel’s stipulating to the violation without raising the issue as a defense to the violation. View "Commonwealth v. Vargas" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted on several drug-related charges. Defendant filed a motion to suppress items found during a search of his bag following his arrest on an outstanding warrant. The superior court allowed Defendant’s motion to suppress, concluding that there was no probable cause to search the bag as incident to Defendant’s arrest on the outstanding warrant. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order allowing Defendant’s motion to suppress, holding that, under the totality of the circumstances, it was unreasonable for the police officers to seize the bag, and therefore, any subsequent search, even conducted pursuant to a lawful inventory search policy, was tainted by the unlawful seizure. View "Commonwealth v. Abdallah" on Justia Law

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Defendant was sixteen years old at the time he admitted to committing murder. Defendant made his confession after prolonged questioning by the police and by his mother. Defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements to the police, but the motion was denied. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theory of deliberate premeditation and unlicensed possession of a firearm. Defendant filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Defendant’s claims were denied, and the denial of his motion was consolidated with his direct appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions and declined to grant relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding (1) the Court declines to expand the rule requiring the corroboration of extrajudicial statements as it applies to juvenile confessions; (2) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant’s motion for a new trial; (3) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant’s motion to suppress on the grounds asserted by Defendant; and (4) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on the firearms charge. View "Commonwealth v. Weaver" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury. The prosecution argued that Defendant violently shook a toddler in his care based on medical testimony that the child was diagnosed with three symptoms associated with shaken baby syndrome. At trial, Defendant contended that the child had fallen down the stairs in her home and later fallen off a kitchen stool. Defendant filed a postconviction motion for a new trial, arguing (1) his counsel was ineffective for failing to retain a medical expert to acknowledge the possibility that the child’s injuries could have been caused by an accidental short-distance fall, and (2) new scientific advances on shaken baby syndrome and short falls warranted a new trial. The motion judge denied the motion, and the Appeals Court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Defendant was deprived of a defense due to counsel’s failure to find an appropriate expert to testify that the child’s injuries might have been caused by her accidental falls, thereby creating a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. Remanded for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Epps" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of aggravated rape and abuse of a child and indecent assault and battery on a child under fourteen years of age. The Appeals Court affirmed on appeal. Defendant appealed, arguing that the prosecutor made an improper closing argument that created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. Defendant failed to object to the prosecutor’s argument. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the cumulative effect of various improper statements in the prosecutor’s argument created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. Remanded for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Dirgo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an attorney who worked for the defendant Boston law firm, 2004-2008, complained to her superiors and, later, to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, that she was being subjected to discriminatory treatment on the basis of her gender. After her 2007 demotion, on the advice of her attorney, the plaintiff searched the firm's document management system for items that might prove her assertions of discrimination. After these searches were made known to the firm's chairman, the plaintiff's employment was terminated "for cause." Her suit under G. L. 151B, 4 alleged gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, aiding and abetting discrimination, failure to investigate and remedy discrimination, and retaliation. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed dismissal of her claims, in part. Plaintiff presented evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that both her demotion and her termination were the result of unlawful discrimination, as well as evidence allowing an inference that both were the result of retaliation, so that summary judgment was inappropriate. An employee's accessing, copying, and forwarding of documents may, in certain limited circumstances, constitute "protected activity," but only where her actions are reasonable in the totality of the circumstances. View "Verdrager v. Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, P.C." on Justia Law