Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the district court denial of Defendant’s motion for a new trial after he pleaded guilty to violating multiple controlled substances laws, holding that remand was required for further proceedings on Defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel because the judge might have failed to recognize his discretion to credit or discredit Defendant’s affidavits as they pertained to plea counsel’s allegedly deficient performance and failed to make factual findings about whether special circumstances relevant to the prejudice inquiry existed. After Defendant entered his plea, he filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 30(b), arguing that his counsel had rendered ineffective assistance and that he would not have pleaded guilty if counsel had properly advised him about the plea’s immigration consequences. The motion judge denied the motion after holding a nonevidentiary hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the denial of the motion for a new trial, holding that remand was required for findings relating to the issue of plea counsel’s deficient performance and the issue of special circumstances. View "Commonwealth v. Lys" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the motion judge allowing Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence discovered when police officers “froze” a house while they obtained a warrant, holding that the suppression order was proper because there was an insufficient basis to believe that evidence would be lost or destroyed. The court of appeals reversed the suppression order, concluding that the police officers’ actions were justified to prevent the removal or destruction of evidence. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that that police officers were not justified in conducting a warrantless search to prevent the loss or destruction of evidence. View "Commonwealth v. Owens" on Justia Law

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The Supreme court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree and the superior court’s denial of his motion for a new trial, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below and that there was no reason to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the degree of guilt or order a new trial. Specifically, the Court held (1) defense counsel provided constitutionally effective assistance; (2) Defendant’s due process rights were not violated by the Commonwealth’s failure to disclose purported cooperation agreements it had with witnesses; (3) there was no prejudicial error in the admission of evidence of injuries the child sustained; and (4) the prosecutor did not improperly vouch for the credibility of the victim’s mother in her closing argument. View "Commonwealth v. Goitia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order of the trial judge granting a class-wide preliminary injunction concerning the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) operation of a shelter program, holding that, based on the preliminary record, Plaintiffs had not shown a likelihood of succeeding on their claim that the challenged policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating on the basis of disability. Plaintiffs were among the approximately 3,500 people currently served by the emergency assistance (EA) program. Plaintiffs sought a class-wide preliminary injunction directing DHCD to use motels as EA replacements. The judge allowed the motion in part and ordered that DHCD treat motels and hotels as available placements when implementing approved ADA accommodation requests in the EA program. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order of preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings, holding the judge erred in concluding (1) any delay in providing an ADA accommodation is a per se violation of law, and (2) DHCD likely violated ADA regulations that prohibit public entities from providing services or siting facilities in a manner that has the effect of discriminating on the basis of disability. View "Garcia v. Department of Housing & Community Development" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the widespread evidence tampering of chemist Sonja Farak at the State Laboratory Institute in Amherst at the campus of the University of Massachusetts compromised the integrity of thousands of drug convictions and that her misconduct, compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, requires that the Court exercise its superintendence authority and vacate and dismiss all criminal convictions tainted by governmental wrongdoing. Farak stole and used for her own use drugs submitted to the lab for testing and consumed drug “standards” required for testing. Members of the Attorney General’s office deceptively withheld exculpatory evidence on the matter. Petitioners sought dismissal of thousands of cases tainted by governmental wrongdoing. The Supreme Judicial Court held that the class of “Farak defendants” includes all defendants who were found guilty of a drug charge where Farak signed the certificate of analysis, the conviction was based on methamphetamine and the drugs were tested during Farak’s tenure at the Amherst lab, or the drugs were tested at the Amherst lab during a certain period regardless of who signed the certificate of analysis. The Court also recommended that the standing advisory committee on the rules of criminal procedure propose amendments to Rule 14 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure to include a Brady checklist and any other beneficial modifications. View "Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree, as a joint venturer, holding that none of the arguments Defendant raised on appeal warranted reversal of his convictions. During trial, the Commonwealth proceeded on a theory of felony-murder, with armed home invasion and attempted armed robbery as the predicate felonies. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions and declined to exercise its authority to grant relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions; (2) the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in allowing cell site location information evidence; (3) the judge did not err when she did not instruct the jury that they were allowed to reach factually inconsistent verdicts; and (4) this Court declines to abolish the common-law doctrine of felony-murder. View "Commonwealth v. Bin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the trial court’s order suppressing statements that Defendant made during custodial interrogations and suppressing the results of the forensic testing of Defendant’s bloodstained clothing, holding (1) a remand was necessary to determine whether the suppression of Defendant’s statements was proper; and (2) the police lawfully seized Defendant’s clothing incident to arrest and did not need a separate warrant to test the clothing for the presence of human blood. Defendant was charged with murder in the first degree in connection with the beating death of a woman who had obtained a restraining order against him. The motion judge determined that Defendant was too intoxicated during custodial interviews to make a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary Miranda waiver. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) a remand was necessary for the trial judge to make findings and credibility determinations regarding all pertinent evidence in light of this Court’s de novo assessment of the recording of Defendant’s second custodial interview; and (2) the order suppressing the results of the forensic testing of Defendant’s clothing must be reversed. View "Commonwealth v. Tremblay" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on the theory of deliberate premeditation, holding that the judge erred by declining to require an explanation for the prosecutor’s preemptory challenge to a female African-American member of the venire and erred in declining to give Defendant’s requested jury instructions on self-defense and voluntary manslaughter. The shooting that led to the fatality in this case was precipitated by a drug turf war. At the close of the evidence Defendant requested that the jury be instructed on self-defense and voluntary manslaughter, but the request was denied. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the trial judge abused her discretion by declining to require the prosecutor to provide and adequate and genuine race-neutral reason for Defendant’s peremptory challenge to the juror at issue; and (2) considered in the light most favorable to Defendant, the evidence warranted instructions on self-defense and voluntary manslaughter based on the theory of excessive use of force in self-defense. View "Commonwealth v. Ortega" on Justia Law

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In this criminal matter, the Supreme Judicial Court held that maintaining pending charges against an incompetent defendant where the defendant will never regain competency and where maintaining the charges does not serve the compelling State interest of protecting the public violates the defendant’s substantive due process rights. In 1994, Defendant was charged with murder in the first degree but was deemed incompetent to stand trial. After unsuccessfully filing a series of motions to dismiss and for reconsideration, in 2016, Defendant sought relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Stat. ch. 211, 3 arguing that he was permanently incompetent to stand trial and dismissal of the charges was required. At issue was Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 16(f), which requires mandatory dismissal of charges at the time when the defendant would have been eligible for parole if he had been convicted and sentenced to the maximum statutory sentence. Defendant argued that the statute should be interpreted to apply to all crimes, regardless of parole eligibility. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding that the statute satisfies due process requirements only insofar as it is understood to allow the dismissal of charges, in the interest of justice, where the defendant will never regain competency and does not pose a risk to public safety. View "Sharris v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the superior court judge’s denial of Defendant’s motion for resentencing, holding that Defendant, a juvenile convicted of armed home invasion, was sentenced to a mandatory minimum term exceeding that applicable to a juvenile convicted of murder without a hearing under Miller v. Alabama, 467 U.S. 460, 477-478 (2012), in violation of the requirements announced in Commonwealth v. Perez, 477 Mass. 677 (2017) (Perez I), and refined in Commonwealth v. Perez, 480 Mass. __ (2018) (Perez II), also decided today. Defendant was adjudicated a youthful offender on indictments charging armed home invasion and various related offenses and was sentenced to a mandatory minimum prison term of twenty years to twenty years and one day on the armed him invasion charge. Defendant later filed a motion for relief from unlawful restraint, which the juvenile court judge denied. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order denying Defendant’s motion and remanded to the juvenile court for resentencing, holding that Defendant’s sentence violated the proportionality requirement inherent in article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. View "Commonwealth v. Lutskov" on Justia Law