Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for murder in the first degree on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty, holding that the errors that occurred during the trial did not require a new trial.On appeal, Defendant argued that she was prejudiced from the Commonwealth's use of prior bad act evidence. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) some of the challenged evidence should not have been admitted, but there was no abuse of discretion int he judge's conclusion that the probative value of the evidence was not outweighed by its prejudicial effect; (2) the prosecutor's reliance on the prior bad act evidence in closing arguments was improper, but the improprieties did not so infuse the trial with unfairness as to deny due process of law; and (3) a reduction in the verdict pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E would not serve the interests of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Peno" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the denial of the motions to suppress filed by Nelson Mora and Ricky Suarez, holding that the continuous, long-term pole camera surveillance targeted at the residences of Mora and Suarez was a search under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.Using video footage collected by hidden video cameras on public telephone and electrical poles (pole cameras) the Commonwealth secured indictments against twelve defendants, including Mora and Suarez. Eight defendants moved to suppress the pole camera footage and evidence derived from that footage as the fruits of an unreasonable search. The superior court denied the motions, concluding that the pole camera surveillance did not constitute a search. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed as to Mora and Suarez and remanded the matter to the superior court for further proceedings, holding that the warrantless surveillance of Mora's and Suarez's residences for more than two months was a "search" under article 14. View "Commonwealth v. Mora" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the superior court judge allowing Defendant's motion to suppress statements he made to police officers, holding that Defendant was not subjected to custodial interrogation while speaking with the police officers and that the statements were otherwise voluntary.Defendant was placed under arrest for the removal of human remains from the Worcester cemetery. Defendant filed a motion to suppress statements he made to Hartford police officers, arguing that the statements were made under custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings and that they were involuntary. The motion judge allowed the motion to suppress. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Defendant was not in custody when he made his statements to the police officers, and therefore, Miranda warnings were not required; and (2) there was no indication that Defendant's statements were involuntarily made. View "Commonwealth v. Medina" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for murder in the first degree, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below, and there was no reason for the Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the verdict or to order a new trial.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the motion judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress his statement to the police; (2) an indisputably gruesome photograph should not have been admitted into evidence, but there was no cause to disturb the verdict; (3) there was no error in the absence of a sua sponte instruction on lost evidence; (4) the judge did not err in admitting into evidence two knives; (5) certain statements in the prosecutor's closing argument were improper, but the improprieties did not require a new trial; and (6) there were no grounds on which to reduce the degree of guilt or to order a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Walters" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree and assault and battery and several related orders denying postconviction relief, holding that each of Defendant's claims lacked merit.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's pretrial motion to suppress digital camera images; and (2) the Commonwealth violated its obligation under article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to apprise Defendant of his article 36 rights to representation of counsel of his choice and court-appointed conflict-free counsel, but the error was neither constitutional nor structural. View "Commonwealth v. Fernandes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's conviction for kidnapping but affirmed all other convictions, holding that the verdicts of murder in the first degree were consonant with justice but that Defendant's kidnapping conviction must be vacated because it was based on an inveiglement theory previously dismissed by the motion judge.Defendant was found guilty of three counts of murder in the first degree, kidnapping, and witness intimidation. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that his conviction of kidnapping based on a 2010 incident must be vacated because the theory of kidnapping was invalid or foreclosed by the superior court judge's ruling on a pretrial motion to dismiss. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) Defendant's 2010 kidnapping conviction must be reversed, as the theory on which the prosecution proceeded at trial had previously been dismissed by the court; (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error; and (3) there is no reason for this Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to order a new trial or direct the entry of verdicts of a lesser degree of guilt. View "Commonwealth v. Hall" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court held that Defendant's right to choice of private counsel and right to be present during a critical stage of the proceedings under both the federal and state constitutions were violated during his criminal trial, requiring automatic reversal absent waiver, but that the delay of more than thirty years in bringing these claims under these circumstances waived the claims under state and federal constitutional law.In 1982, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree. In 2015, Defendant filed a second motion for a new trial asserting that the appointment of his court-appointed, State-funded counsel violated his rights under the Sixth Amendment and article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) Defendant's right to choice of private counsel and right to be present during a critical stage of the proceedings under both the federal and state constitutions were violated, and these violations were structural errors; (2) the delay in bringing these claims combined with the fact that the transcript clearly depicting the constitutional violations was available for Defendant in 1991 and for the public defense counsel screening his claims in 1992-1993 and 2000 waived Defendant's claims; and (3) there was no substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Francis" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court declared that periods of delay resulting from trial continuances pursuant to the Court's emergency orders should be excluded from the computation of time limits on pretrial detention under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58A and 58B.In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a series of emergency orders designated to protect the public health by minimizing the need for in-person proceedings at court houses. In the orders, the Court continued all criminal jury trials to a date no earlier than September 8, 2020 and declared that the time periods of the trial continuances shall be excluded from speedy trial computations. At issue in these three cases was whether the periods of delay resulting from continuances pursuant to the Court's emergency orders should be excluded from the computation of statutory time limits on pretrial detention under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58A or 58B. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the cases to the single justice for entry of orders directing the lower courts to reconsider their prior orders releasing Defendants from detention under chapter 276, sections 58A and 58B, holding that the time periods of these continuances must be excluded in computing the time limits on pretrial detention. View "Commonwealth v. Lougee" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice denying, without a hearing, Defendant's petition for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice neither erred nor abused his discretion by denying relief.After Defendant's motion to suppress was allowed, the Commonwealth applied for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal. A single justice allowed the application and directed the appeal to the Appeals Court. An interlocutory appeal was entered more than a year after the single justice granted the Commonwealth leave to appeal. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the underlying charges, arguing that his speedy trial and due process rights had been violated. The motion was denied. Defendant then filed his Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition seeking leave to cross-appeal from the denial of his motion to dismiss. The single justice denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not show that the ordinary process of trial and appeal was inadequate for him to obtain review of his speedy trial and due process claims. View "Ramos v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice denying the Commonwealth's petition, filed pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, for relief from an interlocutory order the superior court in an underlying criminal case without deciding the merits, holding that the single justice did not abuse her discretion in denying the petition.Defendant was indicted on numerous firearm and ammunition charges. Defendant filed in the trial court a motion for discovery pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2) seeking Boston police department records concerning social media surveillance on Snapchat. In his motion, Defendant asserted that the Boston police department was using Snapchat as an investigatory tool almost exclusively against black males and sought discovery he claimed would support a claim of racial discrimination. The superior court judge allowed the motion. The Commonwealth filed its Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition, arguing that the judge erred in concluding that Defendant had met his burden in asserting selective prosecution that would warrant the requested discovery. The single justice denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the matter did not warrant the exercise of the Court's extraordinary general superintendence power. View "Commonwealth v. Dilworth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law