Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of murder in the first degree, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and other offenses, holding that Defendant was not entitled to reversal of his convictions.After he entered his appeal, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial. The superior court declined to act on the motion, as the Supreme Court would be reviewing the record. In his trial appeal, Defendant raised thirteen claims of error, and in his motion for a new trial, Defendant raised a number of claims that were also made virtually identically in his direct appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief as to either either his allegations of error on appeal or his motion for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Andrade" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas to indictments charging robbery, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, unlawful possession of a firearm, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief.After learning of Annie Dookhan's misconduct in falsifying drug test results at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute, Defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. Defendant's drug conviction was subsequently vacated. The superior court then denied Defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas with respect to the non-drug-related charges. The superior court judge denied the motion, and the appeals court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that where a plea agreement involved multiple charges, some drug-related and others not, the presumption of governmental misconduct applies only to the tainted drug convictions. View "Commonwealth v. Henry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the responses of the named sheriff's offices in this complaint and their respective houses of correction to the COVID-19 pandemic did not violate Federal and State constitutional minimum requirements.At issue in this case was whether three alleged failures by certain of the Commonwealth's county sheriffs in their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a failure to implement adequate COVID-19 testing strategies by the thirteen named defendants, violated Federal and State constitutional requirements. The Supreme Judicial Court denied relief, holding that there was no Federal or State constitutional violation as a result of Defendants' failure to implement comprehensive routine screening testing for COVID-19, to reduce population levels in the houses of correction, or to make more available three-way video conferencing for the purpose of attorney-client communication. View "Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Barnstable County Sheriff's Office" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the medical parole scheme set forth in the Medical Parole Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 127, 119A, authorizing the Commissioner of Correction to grant medical parole to terminally ill or permanently incapacitated prisoners, while delegating to the parole board oversight of a medical parolee's compliance with the conditions of parole imposed, does not offend due process.Plaintiff, an inmate, filed a petition for medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Plaintiff was subsequently released on medical parole but later arrested for violating the terms of his release. Plaintiff's parole was later revoked, and the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's second petition for medical parole. Plaintiff then sought release from custody, and a single justice denied the request. The Supreme Judicial Court answered reported questions regarding the Medical Parole Act by holding that the statutory and regulatory scheme concerning the revocation of medical parole does not violate a parolee's right to due process. View "Emma v. Massachusetts Parole Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated and set aside the order of the superior court judge denying Defendant's motion to suppress the fruits of a search of Defendant's home, holding that the warrantless investigatory review of the video footage taken from use of a body-worn camera that was unrelated to the domestic disturbance call in this case was unconstitutional.As he responded to a call about a domestic disturbance at Defendant's home, a police officer, who was equipped with a body-worn camera, created a digital recording of the encounter. The video footage was later retrieved and reviewed in connection with an ongoing independent investigation of Defendant for firearms offenses. Defendant was indicted on firearms-related offenses and moved to suppress the video recording from the body-worn camera and the fruits of the search warrant. The motion judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order denying the motion to suppress, holding that (1) the use of the body-worn camera within the home was not an unconstitutional search; but (2) the later warrantless investigatory review of the video footage violated Defendant's constitutional right to be protected from unreasonable searches. View "Commonwealth v. Yusuf" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the superior court concluding that the Commonwealth's exercise of its statutory right to demand a jury trial violated Petitioner's substantive due process rights and allowing Petitioner's motion for a bench trial, holding that the judge erred in concluding that Petitioner's substantive due process rights were violated.A jury found Petitioner to be a sexually dangerous person, and Petitioner was committed to the Massachusetts Treatment Center. Petitioner later filed a motion pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123A, 9 for discharge from civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person. A jury trial in 2018 resulted in a mistrial, and the matter was rescheduled for retrial in 2020. The trial, however, was continued indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of jury trials in the state. A superior court judge granted Petitioner's motion to proceed with a bench trial, concluding that it was unconstitutional for the Commonwealth to exercise its right to demand a jury trial. The Commonwealth appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that continuing commitment after a single mistrial where Petitioner was previously found to be sexually dangerous did not violate Petitioner's due process rights and did not require that Petitioner be given the opportunity to seek release pending trial. View "In re LeSage" 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 deliberate premeditation and declined relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no reason to order a new trial, reduce the verdict, or grant any other relief.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial judge did not err in declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; (2) the trial judge did not erred in allowing a Boston police detective to testify about the contents of a certain record of the United States Customs and Border Protection agency that he saw on a computer screen at Logan Airport, but the error was not prejudicial; (3) the trial judge's instruction to the jury in response to Defendant's closing argument was not prejudicial; and (4) the prosecutor's remarks during closing arguments did not rise to the level of prejudicial error. View "Commonwealth v. Brea" on Justia Law

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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