Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the jury's verdict convicting Defendant of murder in the first degree, holding that the motion judge abused his discretion in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial because defense counsel's failure to request a voluntary manslaughter instruction created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. In his motion for a new trial, Defendant contended that his trial counsel's performance was deficient because counsel failed to request a voluntary manslaughter jury instruction based on reasonable provocation. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the matter to the superior court for a new trial, holding that the motion judge abused his discretion in determining that trial counsel's decision not to request a voluntary manslaughter instruction was a reasonable tactical choice. View "Commonwealth v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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In this matter concerning the search of a warehouse pursuant to a warrant that was issued in part based on the odor of unburnt marijuana the Supreme Judicial Court remanded this matter to the district court for further proceedings, holding that the warrant affidavit supported a finding of probable cause to search the commercial building for evidence of illegal marijuana cultivation. Defendant filed a motion to suppress due to a lack of probable cause to issue the warrant. Before the district court judge had issued a decision on the motion, the parties requested that the judge report a question to the appeals court. The judge allowed the request and reported the question. The Supreme Judicial Court transferred the appeal to this Court and concluded that the search warrant affidavit established probable cause to search the warehouse for evidence of marijuana cultivation. View "Commonwealth v. Long" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's convictions, holding that the motion judge committed reversible error in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search and seizure of a motor vehicle in which he was a passenger and in denying Defendant's postconviction motion for discovery of wiretap recordings of his conversations with a confidential informant. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the convictions and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) Defendant's motion to suppress should have been granted because Defendant was subjected to an illegal seizure, and the evidence obtained from the subsequently impoundment and search of the vehicle was the direct result of the illegal seizure, and the error was not harmless; (2) the trial judge did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant's prior bad acts; and (3) the motion judge properly denied Defendant's postconviction motion for a new trial but erred in denying the motion for discovery. View "Commonwealth v. Tavares" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated three of the indictments in this case for a new trial, holding that the trial judge improperly failed to include certain language from paragraph three of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, 105(b), in the instruction to the jury on the charges of secretly videotaping children but that paragraph three is not unconstitutionally vague. Defendant was convicted on ten indictments charging him with secreting videotaping unsuspecting individual adults who were nude or partially nude, in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, 105(b), paragraph one. Defendant was also convicted on five indictments charging violation of paragraph three of the statute for secretly videotaping children during the same incident. In a posttrial decision, the trial judge declared that paragraph three of the statute was unconstitutionally vague and vacated Defendant's convictions of videotaping the children. The Supreme Court remanded for a new trial three of the five convictions for videotaping the children, holding (1) the proper unit of prosecution under section 105(b), first paragraph, is based on the individual victims; and (2) section 105(b), third paragraph, is not unconstitutionally vague, but the trial judge improperly instructed the jury on these charges. View "Commonwealth v. Wassilie" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and the order denying his motion for a new trial and further declined to reduce the verdict of murder in the first degree to a lesser degree of guilt or to set aside the convictions under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation, extreme atrocity or cruelty, and felony-murder. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and the order denying his motion for a new trial, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress his statements to police; (2) the trial judge did not err by declining to give a humane practice instruction sua sponte or by declining to provide the jury with complete instructions on joint venture; (3) the trial judge did not err in excluding certain hearsay evidence; and (4) the judge did not err in denying Defendant an evidentiary hearing on his motion for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Amaral" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated and set aside Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree, armed assault with intent to murder, and firearm offenses, holding that four trial errors required that the verdicts be vacated and set aside and this matter remanded to the superior court for a new trial. Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial court erred in admitting a coventurer's statements against Defendant under the joint venture exemption to the hearsay rule, and admission of the statements was barred by the Sixth Amendment; (2) the trial court erred in admitting the opinion of the Commonwealth's gang expert, and the error was prejudicial; (3) the trial court erred in allowing police witnesses to give their opinions as to the identity of individuals depicted in surveillance footage; and (4) the prosecutor engaged in impermissible argument during closing, and a new trial was required. View "Commonwealth v. Wardsworth" 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, holding that there was no reversible error nor a reason to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to either reduce Defendant's convictions or grant a new trial. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not err in declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; (2) Defendant's age at the time of his crimes - nineteen years old - did not render his sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole unconstitutional; and (3) the trial judge did not clearly err in refusing to grant a new trial due to a partial courtroom closure. View "Commonwealth v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's sentence of three consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after forty-five years, in connection with his conviction of three counts of murder in the first degree, holding that the sentence was within constitutional bounds. Defendant was a juvenile homicide offender and sought resentencing when he was well into adulthood. After the Supreme Judicial Court decided Commonwealth v. Costa, 472 Mass. 139 (2015), the Commonwealth conceded that Defendant was entitled to a resentencing hearing. After a hearing, the sentencing judge reinstated Defendant's sentence. Defendant then filed an application with the Supreme Court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E for leave to appeal from the resentencing judge's ruling, as well as a motion for direct entry of the appeal. The single justice directed entry of the appeal on the question of whether a juvenile homicide offender may be required to serve forty-five years in prison before his first opportunity to seek release based on rehabilitation. The Supreme Judicial Court held that Defendant's sentence did not constitute cruel or unusual punishment in violation of article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. View "Commonwealth v. LaPlante" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to suppress drug evidence, holding that the reveal of a plastic bag protruding from the cleft between Defendant's buttocks was within the scope of the lawful strip search and that the actions taken by the police were reasonable. During a lawfully strip search following Defendant's arrest, police officers caused Defendant to move a plastic bag from between his buttocks. The bag was revealed to contain individually wrapped plastic bags of heroin and cocaine. Defendant moved to suppress the drugs found in the plastic bag removed during the strip search. The trial court denied the motion. The Appeals Court reversed, concluding that the police were required under the circumstances to apply for a search warrant to remove the bag because they had failed to ascertain that "no portion of the bag was within Defendant's rectum," which search would require a warrant. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that the motion to suppress was properly denied because the Commonwealth met its burden of showing that the protruding plastic bag was not lodged or embedded in Defendant's rectum and that its removal did not cause any manipulation of the rectum. View "Commonwealth v. Jeannis" on Justia 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