Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded this matter to the county court for entry of a judgment declaring that the Attorney General's summary and the Secretary's one-statement statements regarding a legislative amendment were in compliance with the requirements of article 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, as amended by article 74 of the Amendments.At issue in this case was a legislative amendment that would impose a tax on a portion of annual incomes of $1 million, to be used, subject to appropriation by the legislature, for education and transportation purposes. In preparing to submit the amendment to voters the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Commonwealth prepared informational materials to be distributed across the Commonwealth. Plaintiffs argued that some of the materials were constitutionally and statutorily defective. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed and affirmed, holding (1) the Attorney General's summary was in compliance with the requirements of article 48, as amended by article 74; and (2) the Attorney General and Secretary's one-sentence statements describing the effects of a "yes" vote and a "no" vote are in compliance with the requirements of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 54, 53. View "Anderson v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Attorney General's certification of Initiative Petition 21-13 to be placed on the ballot in the 2022 statewide election complied with article 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution.On September 1, 2021, the Attorney General certified to the Secretary of the Commonwealth that the initiative petition at issue, entitled "Initiative Petition for a Law to Implement Medical Loss Ratios for Dental Benefit Plans," was in proper form for submission to the people. After it was determined that a sufficient number of certified signatures had been submitted Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that the measure was not in compliance with the requirement that an initiative petition contain only subjects that are related or that are mutually dependent. The Supreme Judicial Court denied relief, holding that Initiative Petition 21-13 did not contain unrelated subjects and that the Attorney General's certification complied with article 48. View "Clark v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Attorney General's decision to certify two initiative petitions to be placed on the ballot in the 2022 statewide election was in error and that the petitions may not be placed on the ballot.Plaintiffs, twelve registered voters, brought this action arguing that the two initiative petitions, each proposing "A Law Defining and Regulating the Contract-Based Relationship Between Network Companies and App-Based Drivers," violated the requirement under article 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution that initiative petitions must contain only related or mutually dependent subjects. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) the initiative petitions were not in compliance with the related subjects requirement of article 48; and (2) therefore, the petitions were not suitable to be placed in the 2022 statewide election. View "El Koussa v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the Attorney General's certification of Initiative Petition 21-03, "An Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to 21st Century Alcohol Retail Reform," holding that the Attorney General properly certified the initiative as in proper form to be submitted to the voters.Plaintiffs, opponents of the initiative, sought to enjoin the Secretary of State from placing the petition on the November ballot, arguing that the certification of the petition was improper because the measure did not present "a unified statement of public policy on which the voters can fairly vote 'yes' or 'no.'" The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that the Attorney General's certification of the initiative petition was in compliance with the requirements of article 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. View "Colpack v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice of the court granting in part Defendant's gatekeeper petition to appeal from the denial of his motion for a new trial and reversed the motion judge's denial of Defendant's motion, holding that the Commonwealth violated its obligation under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and prejudiced Defendant.In 1986, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the conviction on appeal. At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was Defendant's second motion for a new trial, in which Defendant alleged that several pieces of evidence were not disclosed at his criminal trial. The motion judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that Defendant established that the Commonwealth failed to disclose exculpatory evidence and that such nondisclosure was prejudicial. View "Commonwealth v. Pope" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for four counts of murder in the first degree on the theory of felony-murder and the order denying his motion for a new trial and declined to grant relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his allegations of error.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial; (2) Defendant's trial counsel did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel; (3) Defendant's argument that exculpatory evidence pointed to another suspect was unavailing; (4) the prosecutor did not commit misconduct during closing arguments; and (5) the judge did not abuse his discretion in declining to strike a juror. View "Commonwealth v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of felony-murder in the first degree and the denial of his motion for a new trial, holding that there was no error that would necessitate a new trial, and there was no reason for the Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to order a new trial or to reduce the conviction to a lesser degree of guilt.On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that his felony-murder conviction must be reversed because his accomplice was killed during a struggle with the intended robbery victim, and therefore, the theory of felony-murder was inapplicable. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the felony-murder rule was applicable; (2) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's convictions; and (3) Defendant's remaining assignments of error were without merit. View "Commonwealth v. Duke" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that "tower dumps" are not per se unconstitutional and that investigators may use tower dumps so long as they comply with the warrant requirements of article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.The Commonwealth obtained search warrants for seven different "tower dumps," a law enforcement tool that provides investigators with the cell site location information for all devices that connected to specific cell towers during a particular time frame, corresponding to the locations of several crimes. Defendant was ultimately charged with six robberies and a homicide. Defendant moved to suppress all evidence obtained from the tower dumps as the fruit of an unconstitutional search. The superior court judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding (1) investigators may use tower dumps so long as they comply with the warrant requirements of article 14; (2) the second of the two warrants in this case was supported by probable cause and therefore did not offend the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; but (3) the first warrant was not supported by probable cause, and any evidence obtained from it must be suppressed. View "Commonwealth v. Perry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order of the superior court judge allowing the forfeiture in this case, holding that firearms found to be improperly secured according to the requirements of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, 131L are not subject to forfeiture under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 3(b), which regulates the disposal of certain firearms seized during the execution of a search warrant.Police obtained a search warrant to search Defendant's home for a firearm allegedly used in an altercation. During the search, officers found that some of Defendant's more than 240 firearms appeared to be improperly secured. Defendant was subsequently indicted on twenty-seven counts of improperly securing a firearm and convicted on twelve counts. Defendant later moved for the return of all twenty-seven of the seized firearms. A superior court judge ordered the return of the firearms seized during during the execution of the search warrant with the exception of the twelve that had been found to have been improperly secured, which the judge ordered be forfeited and destroyed. The Court of Appeals vacated the order below, holding that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, 129D applies only to firearms "deliver[ed] or surrender[ed]," not to those seized during a lawful search. View "Commonwealth v. Fleury" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's conviction of carrying a firearm without a license, holding that the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress.At issue was whether police officers may conduct a traffic stop on the basis of a traffic violation after having resolved the violation at a prior encounter, then having allowed the vehicle to leave, without any other traffic violation taking place. Defendant challenged the constitutionality of the traffic stop in this case under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to suppress and vacated his conviction, holding (1) police may not conduct a traffic stop on the basis of a traffic violation after having previously addressed the violation and having resolved the issue in a separate, discrete encounter; and (2) in the instant case, police lacked the authority to conduct the second traffic stop, and therefore, the stop was unreasonable under article 14. View "Commonwealth v. Daveiga" on Justia Law