Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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A police officer, responding to a report of an unauthorized person at Milton High School, searched the defendant's backpack and discovered a firearm, money, and marijuana. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the police officer lacked a constitutionally permissible basis for the pat-frisk and the subsequent search. He was convicted of carrying a firearm without a license, G.L. c. 269, 10(a); carrying a dangerous weapon on school grounds, 269, 10(j); possession of a firearm without a firearm identification card, 269, 10(h); disturbing a school, 272, 40; and possession of a class D substance with intent to distribute, 94C, 32C. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated, stating that when a police officer conducts a pat-frisk, the applicable standard for assessing its constitutionality is reasonable articulable suspicion under Terry v. Ohio and that an officer's conduct in a school setting is governed by the traditional Fourth Amendment standard. Applying the Terry standard to this case, the officer lacked reasonable articulable suspicion that the defendant had committed a crime and the circumstances of the encounter did not warrant a reasonable belief that the defendant was armed and dangerous. Nor was the search permissible under any exception to the warrant requirement. View "Commonwealth v. Villagran" on Justia Law

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Where a juvenile is sentenced for nonmurder offenses and the aggregate time to be served prior to parole eligibility exceeds that applicable to a juvenile convicted of murder, the sentence cannot be reconciled with article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights unless, after a hearing on the factors articulated in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), the judgment makes a finding that the circumstances warrant treating the juvenile more harshly for parole purposes than a juvenile convicted of murder. Defendant was seventeen years old when he committed the offenses leading to his convictions for armed robbery, armed assault with intent to rob, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and related firearms offenses. The judge sentenced Defendant to an aggregate sentence of thirty-two and one-half years, with parole eligibility after twenty-seven and one-half years. Defendant later filed a motion for resentencing, arguing that the aggregate sentence violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the cognate provision of article 26. The superior court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the matter for a Miller hearing to determine whether Defendant’s sentence comported with the requirements of article 26. If not, then Defendant must be resentenced. View "Commonwealth v. Perez" on Justia Law

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In setting the amount of bail for a defendant, a judge must consider the defendant’s financial resources but is not required to set bail in an amount the defendant can afford if other relevant considerations weigh more heavily than the defendant’s ability to prove the necessary security for his appearance at trial. In this case, Petitioner had been held in jail for more than three and one-half years because he had been unable to post bail in the amounts ordered by a superior court judge following his arrest and indictment for armed robbery while masked. Petitioner petitioned for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. A single justice denied the petition. Petitioner appealed, arguing that the superior court’s bail order violated his right to due process because the judge failed to give adequate consideration to his financial resources. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the judge did not consider Petitioner’s financial resources in setting the bail. The court remanded the matter with directions that the superior court judge conduct a new bail hearing for Petitioner in accord with the standards set forth in this opinion. View "Brangan v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of murder in the first degree and declined to grant relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. The court held (1) the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence to support Defendant’s conviction; (2) the judge did not abuse her discretion in admitting gang opinion testimony; (3) the prosecutor’s opening statement and closing argument were proper; (4) the judge did not allow inadmissible statements that unfairly bolstered the Commonwealth’s theory of gang retaliation or improper interpretive testimony from the lead homicide detective; (5) Defendant’s assertion that trial counsel was ineffective was unavailing; and (6) Defendant’s argument that the motion judge erred in denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss indictments because the Commonwealth failed to establish probable cause to believe that Defendant committed the victim’s murder had no merit. View "Commonwealth v. Barbosa" on Justia Law

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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 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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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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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for raping a fourteen-year-old boy and two thirteen-year-old boys. The court held (1) the trial judge did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress incriminating statements she made to the police because, based on the totality of the circumstances, Defendant’s confession was voluntary; (2) the trial court’s decision not to further redact the video recording of Defendant’s incriminating statements that was shown at trial was within the range of reasonable alternatives; (3) although two of the prosecutor’s closing statements during closing argument were improper, the statements were not prejudicial; and (4) the trial judge’s lack of authority to relieve Defendant from registering as a sex offender under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, 178E(f) did not constitute a due process violation as applied to Defendant. View "Commonwealth v. Hammond" on Justia Law

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Double jeopardy principles did not preclude the Commonwealth from retrying Defendant on a complaint charging a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 24(1)(a)(1) on the theory of operation of a motor vehicle with a percentage of alcohol in his blood of .08 or greater (per se violation) after a jury acquitted Defendant on the theory of operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor (impaired ability violation). The Commonwealth prosecuted the case on both theories, and the jury reached a verdict on the impaired ability violation only. After a new complaint issued charging a per se violation of chapter 90, section 24(1)(a)(1), Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint as a violation of his double jeopardy rights.The judge denied the motion. The Supreme court affirmed, holding that retrial was constitutionally permitted where the Commonwealth prosecuted the case on both theories and the jury reached a verdict on only one of those theories. View "Commonwealth v. Hebb" on Justia Law