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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court’s denial of Defendant’s motion for a new trial. Following a jury-waived trial, Defendant was convicted of rape, subsequent offense, and indecent assault and battery on a person age fourteen or older. In his motion for a new trial, Defendant argued that his jury waiver was neither knowing nor negligent and that defense counsel was constitutionally ineffective because neither the trial judge nor counsel disclosed that the judge’s son was employed as an assistant district attorney in the office of the district attorney for the district that prosecuted the indictments. The Supreme Judicial held (1) the trial judge’s failure to inform Defendant of his familial relationship with a member of the prosecuting attorney’s office during the jury-waiver colloquy was not error; and (2) although counsel’s failure to inform Defendant of the judge’s familial relationship with a member of the prosecuting attorney’s office fell below behavior that might be expected from an ordinary lawyer, counsel’s failure to do so was not prejudicial. View "Commonwealth v. Duart" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for murder in the first degree on the theories of extreme atrocity or cruelty and felony murder with home invasion and armed burglary, assault on occupant as the predicate felonies, and declined to grant relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. The court held (1) there was no error in the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress statements he made during an interview with the police; (2) there was no prejudicial error in the admission of hearsay testimony from various witnesses; (3) the trial judge erred in denying Defendant’s request for a DiGiambattista instruction where a portion of Defendant’s interview with the police was not audio recored, but the error was not prejudicial; (4) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion for a mistrial following the jury’s exposure to inadmissible evidence; and (5) a statement made in the prosecutor’s closing argument was impermissible, but no substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice arose from the statement. View "Commonwealth v. Santana" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed Defendant’s convictions for three counts of aggravated rape of a child. Among the issues raised on appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge erred in interpreting the first complaint rule to require the disclosure of the perpetrator’s identity to the first complaint witness and allowing a law enforcement officer to testify as the first complaint witness. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the admission of the officer’s testimony as first complaint evidence was in error because the essential feature of first complaint evidence is the report of a sexual assault, not the identity of the perpetrator, and the error was prejudicial; (2) the trial judge erred in admitting the complainant’s testimony as to her multiple disclosures of the sexual assault; and (3) the trial judge erred in excluding Defendant’s proffered expert testimony in support of her defense based on battered woman syndrome because a defendant asserting duress based on battered woman syndrome is not required to present affirmative evidence of abuse as a predicate to the defense. View "Commonwealth v. Asenjo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant’s convictions for carrying firearm without a license and receiving stolen property valued over $250. The convictions arose from a search of Defendant’s backpack after he was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and breaking and entering a residence. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge erred in denying his motion to suppress images discovered as the result of the warrantless search of a digital camera discovered in his backpack and that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction of receiving stolen property valued over $250. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the warrantless search of the digital camera was neither a valid search incident to arrest nor a valid inventory search, and therefore, the trial judge erred in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress; and (2) the evidence was insufficient to sustain Defendant’s remaining conviction, but a conviction of the lesser included offense must stand. View "Commonwealth v. Mauricio" on Justia Law

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An order granting the specific performance of a plea agreement constituted error. Pursuant to a plea agreement reached in 1994, Defendant pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree in exchange for the opportunity to immediately seek parole. Defense counsel represented that the Commonwealth promised Defendant that he would not have to be in custody for the parole board to conduct a parole hearing, but several attempts at holding a parole hearing were unsuccessful. Defendant was eventually allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. Defendant was then retried on the original indictment and convicted of murder in the first degree. In 2013, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial. Although the judge found Defendant’s arguments were without merit, the judge ordered specific performance of the 1994 plea agreement and allowed Defendant to plead guilty to murder in the second degree. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the grant of Defendant’s motion for a new trial, holding that the judge in 2013 abused her direction in deciding to enforce the 1994 plea agreement because the prosecutor did not make an enforceable promise to Defendant that he need not be in custody for the parole hearing. View "Commonwealth v. Francis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this case concerning the distribution of natural gas to consumers, the Supreme Judicial Court accepted the conclusion of the Department of Public Utilities that only an end consumer, and not a marketer - or a private company - is entitled to a refund under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 164, 94F. Specifically at issue was whether the assignment of pipeline capacity by a local distribution company (LDC) to a marketer caused the marketer to become a customer of the LDC such that it was entitled a share of that refund. Here, a pipeline was ordered by FERC to issue a refund. Because Bay State, an LDC, was the contracting party with the pipeline, Bay State received the full refund. The Department ordered Bay State to issue a refund to its customers, which it did. Energy Express, a marketer, intervened, arguing that it should receive a proportional share of the refund directly. The Department rejected Energy Express’s position. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the Department reasonably interpreted “customer” as used in section 94F to include only those entitles that consume the natural gas provided or transported by Bay State, which interpretation did not include Energy Express; and (2) therefore, Energy Express was not entitled to a refund. View "Energy Express, Inc. v. Department of Public Utilities" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the superior court finding that Defendant, an attorney, was negligent for his part in financing a real estate loan to Plaintiff. The judge found that Defendant had conferred apparent authority on Bernard Laverty to act as his agent for the loan. Laverty then persuaded Plaintiff to use a portion of the loan from Defendant to make a secured side loan to Laverty. The loan was unsecured, however, and Laverty defaulted. The judge found that, pursuant to the rule that imputes the knowledge of an agent to the principle, Defendant was negligent for failing to inform Plaintiff that the side loan was not secured. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that the facts failed to establish that Laverty had the apparent authority to bind Defendant with respect to the side loan. View "Fergus v. Ross" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction, rendered after a jury verdict, of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty. On appeal, Defendant asserted several claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and challenged the denial of her motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance. The court held (1) although trial counsel erred by failing to consult with a mental health expert, the error did not require reversal of Defendant’s conviction; and (2) the interests of justice did not require entry of a lesser degree of guilt. View "Commonwealth v. Field" on Justia Law

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A juvenile who has been convicted of murder in the first degree, and whose conviction has been affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court after plenary review, is thereafter subject to the gatekeeper provision of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. Defendant was convicted in 1995 of murder in the first degree. Defendant was seventeen years old when the killing occurred and was considered an adult for purposes of the criminal proceedings. In 2013, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial. A judge denied the motion but resentenced Defendant to life with the possibility of parole because Defendant was under the age of eighteen at the time of the killing. Thereafter, Defendant filed an application pursuant to the gatekeeper provision of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E seeking leave to appeal the denial of his motion for a new trial. At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was whether Defendant was subject to the gatekeeper provision since he was no longer sentenced to the most severe sentence recognized in Massachusetts. The court answered that the gatekeeper provision applied to defendants who, like Defendant in this case, have had a direct appeal, have received plenary review, and remain convicted of murder in the first degree. View "Commonwealth v. James" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Tax Board, which concluded that, under a provision of the Massachusetts sales tax statute known as the “drop shipment rule,” Taxpayer was responsible for collective and remitting sales tax due on products it sold to out-of-state retailers and then delivered to consumers. Taxpayer sold goods to retailers at wholesale and delivered the goods to Massachusetts consumers and others on behalf of those retailers. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the Commissioner of Revenue and the Board did not err in determining that Taxpayer was responsible as the vendor for collecting and remitting the sales tax due on products it sold to the out-of-state retailers and then delivered to consumers where it failed to meet its burden of proving that the retailers were engaged in business in Massachusetts; and (2) the statutory drop shipment rule does not violate the dormant commerce clause of the federal Constitution. View "D & H Distributing Co. v. Commissioner of Revenue" on Justia Law