Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of murder in the first degree on the theories of felony-murder and extreme atrocity or cruelty and declined to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no reason to grant a new trial or to either reduce or set aside the verdict. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant failed to show actual juror prejudice by way of pretrial publicity; (2) the judge did not abuse his discretion in admitting fingerprint evidence because the evidence was properly authenticated; (3) trial counsel did not provide ineffective assistance; and (4) the prosecutor's statements during closing argument did not amount to reversible error. View "Commonwealth v. Mack" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty and declined to exercise its extraordinary authority to afford relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below warranting a new trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that, given his compromised medical and emotional state, the statements he made to police while he was in the hospital should have been suppressed and that the court should reduce the verdict to murder in the second degree. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the conviction, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. View "Commonwealth v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial judge denying Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that a defendant's waiver of his right to a jury of six persons need not be in writing as long as the trial judge ensures, by way of colloquy, that the defendant's decision to proceed is made knowingly and voluntarily. Defendant was convicted of cruelty to animals. During trial, one of the six jurors was excused from service. After conducting a colloquy, the judge found that Defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to a jury of six persons, and the trial continued with five jurors. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge erred in denying his motion for a new trial on the grounds that his waiver was invalid because it was not in writing pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 19(b). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's waiver to his right to a six-person jury was valid. View "Commonwealth v. Bennefield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court Defendant's conviction of first degree murder and declined to exercise its extraordinary powers to grant relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding (1) where a defendant facing trial on a charges of murder, sexual offenses against children, or rape requests individual voir dire on the issue of racial or ethnic prejudice and the defendant and the victim are of different such backgrounds, that request should be granted; but (2) a new trial was not required in this case. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant was not denied the right to a fair and impartial jury when, after members of the jury were exposed to an extraneous influence, the judge did not excuse the entire jury; (2) while the trial judge erred by partially excluding Defendant from the subsequent voir dire of the deliberating jury, Defendant was not prejudiced; (3) Defendant was not deprived of his right to a fair and impartial jury when the judge denied Defendant's request for individual voir dire on questions of ethnic bias; and (4) the judge did not abuse his discretion in certain evidentiary rulings. View "Commonwealth v. Colon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the second degree and the order denying his motion for a new trial, holding that Defendant's sentence was constitutional and that no prejudicial error occurred in the proceedings below. Defendant, who was seventeen years of age at the time of the murder, was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole after fifteen years. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) a mandatory life sentence with parole eligibility after fifteen years for a juvenile homicide offender convicted of murder in the second degree is constitutional; (2) the judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to continue his sentence so that he could present evidence related to his juvenile status; (3) the judge did not err in denying Defendant's request to instruct the jury on accident; (4) Defendant's counsel was not ineffective for not requesting other jury instructions; and (5) the judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress the warrantless "pinging" of Defendant's cellular telephone because no evidence came from the search. View "Commonwealth v. Lugo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court's order granting Defendant's motion to dismiss the cocaine and cash seized during a warrantless search of his residence, holding that Defendant's consent to a search of his residence did not purge the seizure from the taint of an illegal cell site location information (CSLI) search, where the consent was obtained through the use of information obtained from that search. The superior court ruled that the cash and cocaine must be suppressed because they were the fruits of unlawful police tracking of a cellular telephone through which the police obtained CLSI without a search warrant based on probable cause. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) by monitoring the cell phone's CSLI, the police effectively monitored the movement of a vehicle in which Defendant was a passenger, thus giving Defendant standing to challenge the Commonwealth's warrantless CSLI search; (2) the seizure of the cocaine and cash was the direct result of information obtained from the illegal CSLI search; and (3) the Commonwealth failed to meet its burden of proving that the seizure was sufficiently attenuated from the illegal search such that it should not be deemed a forbidden fruit of the poisonous tree. View "Commonwealth v. Fredericq" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the motion judge's allowance of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that police action causing an individual's cell phone to reveal its real-time location constitutes a search in the constitutional sense under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, but, in this case, the warrantless search was supported by probable cause and was reasonable under the exigent circumstances exception to the search warrant requirement. After the police identified Defendant as the suspect in a murder case, the police contacted Defendant's cellular service provider to request the real-time location of Defendant's cell phone. They did so without a warrant. The service provider "pinged" Defendant's cell phone, which caused the cell phone to transmit its real-time GPS coordinates to the service provider. The GPS coordinates were relayed to the police, and the police were able to use that information to locate Defendant. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence as the fruit of an unlawful search. The motion judge allowed the suppression motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the motion judge erred in concluding that the warrantless ping of Defendant's cell phone was not justified by exigent circumstances. View "Commonwealth v. Almonor" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated in part and affirmed in part the decision of the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board upholding the Department of Labor Relations' (DLR) dismissal of Employees' challenges under the First Amendment to the exclusive representation and the mandatory agency fee provisions of the collective bargaining statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 150E, holding that Employees' constitutional challenge to the agency fee provision was moot and that the First Amendment challenge to the exclusive representation provisions of the statute was foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent. While this case was on appeal, the United States Supreme Court held, in Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) that all State agency fee laws violate the First Amendment by compelling nonmembers of public sector unions to support their unions' speech. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) because the unions voluntarily stopped collecting agency fees to comply with Janus, Employees' agency fee provision challenge was moot; and (2) because the Supreme Court has deemed exclusive representation to be constitutional, Employees' challenge to the exclusive representation provisions of the statute were without merit. View "Branch v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint charging unlawful possession of a firearm on constitutional grounds and denied Defendant's request for a new trial on the grounds of alleged errors in the jury instructions and asserted improper questioning of a witness by the prosecutor, holding that there was not a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice in this case. Defendant, a firearm owner licensed to carry firearms in New Hampshire, did not obtain a Massachusetts firearm license within the statutory time period for new residents. Defendant was convicted of firearm-related offenses. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss where there was no doubt that Defendant lacked a Massachusetts firearm license and that Defendant could have applied for such a license within the statutory period filling his arrival in the Commonwealth; (2) Defendant suffered no prejudice from the jury instructions he challenged on appeal; and (3) the question the prosecutor posed to the witness in this case did not create a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Harris" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the motion judge's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress and Defendant's convictions of breaking and entering and larceny, holding that the Commonwealth's act of accessing and reviewing historical GPS location data recorded from a GPS monitoring device that was attached to Defendant as a condition of his probation was not a search in the constitutional sense. Specifically, the Court held (1) although the original imposition of GPS monitoring as a condition of Defendant's probation was a search, it was reasonable in light of Defendant's criminal history and apparent willingness to recidivate while on probation; (2) once the GPS device was attached to Defendant, he did not possess a reasonable expectation of privacy in data targeted by police to determine his whereabouts; and (3) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's convictions of breaking and entering in the nighttime and larceny over $250. View "Commonwealth v. Johnson" on Justia Law