Articles Posted in Constitutional 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

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Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A requires law enforcement to take reasonable measures to serve abuse prevention orders, and in order for the service of the orders to be reasonable, the manner of service must comply with the terms of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. A district court judge granted Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence relating to, and discovered as a result of, the stop of his vehicle, finding that the purpose of the stop was to serve an abuse prevention order. The Supreme Judicial Court answered in the negative a question reported by the judge asking whether chapter 209A authorizes the police to effectuate a motor vehicle stop to serve a civil abuse prevention order. The Supreme Judicial Court noted that whether a stop to serve a chapter 209A order is reasonable depends on an objective assessment of the necessity of doing so in light of all facts known to law enforcement at the time. View "Commonwealth v. Sanborn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence recovered pursuant to a search warrant, holding that the search warrant lacked probable cause. Defendant was indicted on various charges in connection with the possession of an unlicensed firearm. Two of those charges included sentence enhancement as an armed career criminal. Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence recovered from a safe pursuant to a search warrant and also moved to dismiss the sentence enhancements. Both motions were denied. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the denial of both motions and remanded the matters to the county court, holding (1) the search warrant that yielded a gun, a magazine, and ammunition lacked probable cause; and (2) the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to the grand jury to support the armed career criminal enhancements. View "Commonwealth v. Mora" on Justia Law

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The designation of prima facie evidence in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, 37 - pursuant to which an individual commits larceny if, with the intent to defraud, he obtains goods or services in exchange for a check that the individual wrote knowing there were insufficient funds in the account from which the check draws - and the instruction stemming from the statute are unconstitutional. Defendant appealed his conviction of four counts of larceny by uttering a false check, arguing that the prima facie designation in the statute and the related instruction are constitutionally infirm because an individual’s failure to pay a check within two days of notice of dishonor does not have a sufficiently logical connection to the individual’s knowledge of insufficient funds or intent to defraud at the time the check was written. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with Defendant but nonetheless affirmed his convictions because the instructional error in this case was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Commonwealth v. Littles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty. The court held (1) while not overwhelming, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient as a matter of law to support Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree, and therefore, there was no error in the judge’s denial of Defendant’s motion for a required finding; but (2) the trial judge’s failure to require an explanation of the prosecutor’s peremptory challenge of a prospective juror, who was African-American, was error, and because the error constituted structural error for which prejudice is presumed, the case must be remanded to the superior court for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Once a police officer has completed the investigation of a defendant’s civil traffic violations and the facts do not give rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the officer is required to permit the defendant to drive away. Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from the trunk of his vehicle, arguing that state police troopers and local police officers unreasonably detained him beyond the time required to effectuate a traffic stop. A superior court denied the motion to suppress. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that because the officer’s investigation of civil traffic violations did not give rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the officer did not have a legitimate basis to justify his investigation of criminal drug activity, and Defendant should have been allowed to drive away. View "Commonwealth v. Cordero" on Justia Law

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For reasons set forth in its decision issued today in Van Arsdale v. Van Arsdale, 477 Mass. __ (2017), the Supreme Judicial Court held that the durational limits of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 are constitutional. In 2014, Husband sought to modify his alimony obligation established in an alimony agreement, claiming a material change of circumstances. The judge agreed with Husband that modification was warranted. The judge also applied the Act’s durational limits to the agreement and ordered that Husband’s alimony obligation would terminate in 2020. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the trial judge did not abuse her discretion concluding that Wife failed to prove that deviation beyond the Act’s duration limits was required in the interests of justice. View "Popp v. Popp" on Justia Law