Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for simple assault and battery, holding that while Defendant's bench trial, conducted partly via Zoom, did not violate Defendant's constitutional rights, this opinion sets forth guidelines to be followed when remote bench trials are contemplated in criminal cases.Defendant's bench trial was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic over an Internet-based video conferencing platform. On appeal, Defendant argued that his trial violated his constitutional rights to confront the witnesses against him, to be present at trial, to have a public trial, and to have effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendant was not prejudiced by his appearance over Zoom at his trial and did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel. Because the Court recognized that a criminal defendant's constitutional rights may be implicated when critical stages of court proceedings are conducted remotely, the Court provided guidance in this opinion to trial courts that offer defendants virtual or partly virtual bench trials during the COVID-19 pandemic. View "Commonwealth v. Curran" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions entered upon his conditional guilty plea to the charges of possession of a firearm without a license and possession of a large capacity feeding device, holding that the superior court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress.On appeal, Defendant argued that the officers that stopped him after a routine traffic stop and then conducted a pat frisk did not have reasonable suspicion that he might be armed and dangerous. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order denying Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the facts, when taken together, warranted a reasonably prudent person's belief that Defendant was armed and dangerous. View "Commonwealth v. Sweeting-Bailey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court judge dismissing Plaintiff's civil action against the Appeals Court alleging various claims relating to property situated at 44 Chestnut Street in Wakefield, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff brought this action against multiple defendants, including the Appeals Court, claiming violations of various federal rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 and violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12131 et seq. The superior court dismissed the claims against all defendants through a series of rulings. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's section 1983 claims were barred by sovereign immunity and that Plaintiff's ADA claims were barred by absolute judicial immunity. View "Bostwick v. 44 Chestnut Street, Wakefield, Mass." on Justia Law

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