Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Supreme Judicial Court Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 233, 20, Fourth - which applies to the testimony of a parent of minor child against the other in criminal, delinquency, and youthful offender proceedings where the victim is not a family member and does not reside in the household - does not disqualify parents from being called as witnesses for the defense to testify at an evidentiary hearing for a motion to suppress.Juvenile was indicted as a youthful offender on the charge of carrying a firearm without a license. Before trial, Juvenile moved to suppress certain statements he made to the police and sought to call his mother to testify at the evidentiary hearing. The Commonwealth sought to prohibit the juvenile's mother from testifying based on section 20, Fourth. The judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) section 20, Fourth prevents the prosecution from calling the child's parents to testify for the Commonwealth in youthful offender proceedings where the victim is not a family member and does not reside in the household; but (2) section 20, Fourth allows the child to call his or her parents as witnesses for the defense and then the Commonwealth to cross-examine them. View "Commonwealth v. Vigiani" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for trafficking of persons for sexual servitude and unlawful possession of marijuana, holding that the superior court judge did not err denying Defendant's motion to suppress and that there were no errors necessitating a new trial.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the motion judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from sex cell phones; (2) the judge did not commit reversible error in allowing the Commonwealth's motion in limine seeking to introduce certain text messages as statements by a coventurer, andthe judge's failure to provide a limiting instruction was error but did not prejudice Defendant; (3) the judge did not abuse her discretion in permitting the introduction of prior bad acts; and (4) there was no other prejudicial error in the proceedings. View "Commonwealth v. Lowery" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of assault and battery and strangulation, holding that admitting the victim's statements did not violate Defendant's right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.The victim did not testify at trial. Instead, a recording of the victim's 911 call and the responding officers' recounting of the victim's statements were admitted. The Appeals Court reversed Defendant's convictions on the grounds that his confrontation rights were violated. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions, holding (1) because most of the admitted statements were not made with the primary purpose of creating a substitute for trial testimony they were non testimonial and did not violate Defendant's confrontation rights; and (2) to the extent that the victim's statements were testimonial, the only such statement was duplicative of other evidence, and its admission was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Commonwealth v. Rand" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice of the court denying Plaintiff's petition for relief after she was suspended without pay from her position as an assistant clerk-magistrate in the superior court following her indictment on felony charges, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion in the denial of relief.In her petition, Plaintiff argued, among other things, that the executive office of the trial court exceeded its authority by acting pursuant to a provision of its personnel manual mandating suspension without pay of employees charged with felonies. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff's suspension without pay upon the issuance of a federal felony indictment was consistent with and mandated by the terms of the personnel manual, the promulgation of which constituted a permissible exercise of the Court Administrator's authority; (2) the single justice did not err in finding that the trial court's procedures satisfied due process; and (3) Plaintiff was not entitled to relief on her equal protection claims. View "Moore v. Executive Office of the Trial Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of murder in the first degree on the theory of felony-murder, unlawful possession of a firearm, and attempted armed robbery, holding that there was no error.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) counsel's failure to file a motion to suppress Defendant's text messages was not ineffective assistance of counsel because probable cause was established; (2) counsel was not ineffective for failing to exclude cell site location information; (3) Defendant was not was prejudiced by defense counsel's failure to object to in-court and out-of-court identifications made by an eyewitness; and (4) there was no other basis to set aside or reduce the verdict of murder in the first degree or to order a new trial under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Louis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree, on a theory of felony order, with aggravated rape as the predicate felony, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) there was sufficient evidence to prove that the homicide and the aggravated rape were parts of one continuous event; (2) if there was any error in the prosecutor's closing argument, Defendant was not prejudiced by it; (3) there was no error in the judge's Tuey-Rodriguez charge to the jury; (4) the judge's response to a jury question about the permissibility of inferences from a lack of evidence did not violate Defendant's right to due process; and (5) there was no reason to reduce the verdict or to order a new trial under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Witkowski" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court allowing Defendant's motion to suppress all of the statements he made after having invoked his right to counsel, holding that the trial judge did not err in granting the motion to suppress.Defendant was arrested on charges of murder in the first degree and possession of a firearm without a license. Although Defendant first agreed to waive his Miranda rights and speak with police in an interrogation room, twenty minutes after the interview began Defendant requested to speak with an attorney. Forty-five minutes later, Defendant again waived his Miranda rights and agreed with speak with the police. Defendant was subsequently interviewed for about one hour. Thereafter, Defendant moved to suppress all of the statements he made after having invoked his right to counsel. The superior court judge allowed the motion to suppress, concluding that it had not been established beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant reinitiated the interview and knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his right to counsel. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the trial judge did not err. View "Commonwealth v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that social workers, and their approving supervisors, in the Department of Children and Families who attest to facts in sworn affidavits as part of care and protection proceedings commenced by the Department in the juvenile court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 119, 24 are entitled to absolute immunity in these circumstances.Plaintiff brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 against a social worker with the Department, alleging that the social worker intentionally misrepresented facts in a sworn affidavit filed in support of a care and protection petition in the juvenile court. Plaintiff further alleged that the social worker's area supervisor (together, with the social worker, Defendants) was liable because she had approved the social worker's actions. Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that they were entitled to absolute immunity. A superior court judge allowed the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendants were entitled to absolute immunity under the circumstances of this case. View "C.M. v. Commissioner of Department of Children & Families" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of unlawful distribution of heroin as a subsequent offender and unlawful possession of heroin with intent to distribute as a subsequent offender, holding that the superior court did not err by denying Defendant's motion to suppress and that there was no other error.In his suppression motion, Defendant sought to suppress evidence found during a warrantless search of a motor vehicle. The superior court denied the motion to suppress. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the denial of the suppression motion and Defendant's convictions, holding (1) the police had probable cause to search the vehicle, and there was no error in the denial of the motion to suppress; (2) the trial judge erred in allowing the admission of an in-court identification made by a police officer, but the error did not prejudice Defendant; and (3) there was no substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice as to the jury instructions on possession and distribution of narcotics. View "Commonwealth v. Ortiz" on Justia Law

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In this appeal from various orders regarding Defendant's pretrial detention status the Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decision of the single justice concluding that no due process violation occurred regarding one case and ruled that the other case was moot, holding that remand was required for a determination as to whether Defendant's continued pretrial confinement violates due process.Defendant had been held in pretrial detention for more than eighteen months on charges arising out of the Chelsea Division and the Lynn Division of the District Court Department. At the time of this opinion, Defendant had been held for over a year beyond his initial trial dates. Defendant was eventually acquitted of the charges in the Chelsea case. In the Lynn case, Defendant's trial was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At issue was whether the prolonged detention violated Defendant's due process rights. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) in analyzing whether a defendant's pretrial detention violates due process this opinion contains a procedural framework; (2) because Defendant was acquitted in the Chelsea case, that case was moot; and (3) as to the Lynn case, the matter must be remanded for further proceedings. View "Mushwaalakbar v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law