Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the ruling of a single justice dismissing Appellant's postconviction petitions, holding that Appellant should seek his requested relief in the superior court. Appellant was convicted of murder in the first degree on a theory of joint venture. Appellant later filed in the county court a "Petition to Supreme Judicial Court Requesting Relief in the Form of an Order to the Trial Court to Correct the Record" and a "Motion Requesting Leave to Enter Petition on the Docket of the Supreme Judicial Court" purportedly pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. A single justice dismissed the petitions because Appellant had not first sought relief in the superior court and that, therefore, there was no superior court decision from which Appellant sought to appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the single justice correctly denied relief. View "Commonwealth v. Birks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the motion judge allowing Defendant's motion to suppress evidence derived from the warrantless seizure and search of his cell phone, holding that the seizure of the cell phone was proper but the search of the cell phone was not proper. The trial court granted the motion to suppress on grounds that the seized cell phone was not properly handled pursuant to a valid written inventory policy and that the police had conducted an investigatory search of the seized cell phone. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) it was permissible to seize the cell phone as part of a search incident to custodial arrest; and (2) the search exceeded the scope of, and was inconsistent with, the purposes underlying the search exception to the warrant requirement. View "Commonwealth v. Barillas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the trial court and set aside Defendant's conviction as a joint venturer of murder in the first degree on the theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty, holding that the evidence presented to the jury was insufficient to establish Defendant's knowing participation in the murder with the required intent beyond a reasonable doubt. At the close of all evidence, Defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty. The motion was denied. After Defendant was convicted, he appealed, arguing that the trial judge erred in denying his motion for a required finding of not guilty. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) the Commonwealth's evidence was insufficient to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt Defendant's presence when the victim was stabbed, and therefore, the conviction cannot stand; and (2) retrial of Defendant was barred by the principles of double jeopardy. View "Commonwealth v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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In this case involving a consequence of the evidence tampering by Sonja Farak, a chemist at the State Laboratory Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the Supreme Judicial Court held that a defendant who qualified for an enhanced sentence due to a subsequently vacated predicate offense that had been tainted by Farak's misconduct may challenge the guilty plea without being exposed to a harsher sentence than that which he received in exchange for his plea. Defendant was indicted on two counts alleging aggravated statutory rape and as a habitual criminal, with two drug offenses on his prior record as the predicate convictions. Defendant pleaded guilty to lesser charges without the habitual offender enhancements. Defendant was later identified as a "Farak defendant," and one of his prior drug convictions was vacated. Before seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, Defendant requested a ruling that if he succeeded in withdrawing his plea he would not be subject to a harsher punishment as the result of a reprosecution of the rape charges. The superior court judge asked whether protections from harsher punishment established for "Dookhan defendants" apply to "Farak defendants" challenging Farak-related predicate offenses that resulted in enhanced sentences on subsequent convictions. The Supreme Judicial Court answered the question in the positive. View "Commonwealth v. Claudio" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice of the court denying Petitioner's petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that Petitioner's claim could adequately be resolved by the appeals court. Petitioner pleaded guilty to an indictment alleging sex offenses. Petitioner's probation was later revoked, and the Commonwealth filed a petition to commit Petitioner as a sexually dangerous person (SDP). Petitioner moved to dismiss the SDP petition on the ground that, at the time it was filed, he was not a "prisoner" as defined by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123A, 12(b) because the release date had been revised. The motion was denied. Petitioner then filed this petition under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, alleging that the Commonwealth cannot demonstrate that he was a prisoner at the time his discharge petition was filed. A single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the single justice correctly concluded that the ordinary appellate process provided an adequate remedy. View "Brace v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the county court denying Petitioner's petition for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice neither erred nor abused his discretion in denying relief. Petitioner was convicted of multiple counts of larceny over $250. Petitioner's appeal was ultimately dismissed for lack of prosecution. Petitioner later filed his Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition seeking an order dismissing the underlying criminal charges on the grounds that his appeal was deliberately blocked by the appeals court and others. A single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to review pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. View "Kyricopoulos v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice of the court denying Plaintiff's requests for declaratory relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231A, 1, holding that the single justice properly denied relief. In his petition for declaratory relief Plaintiff requested to have the judge removed from his criminal matter and sought a general declaration that the judge should not sit on any criminal matters in Bristol County. The single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) because Plaintiff pleaded guilty, disposing of the criminal charge, Plaintiff's request to have the judge removed from his criminal matter was moot; and (2) Plaintiff had no right as a matter of law to seek an order compelling a judge's recusal from any case other than his own. View "Murphy v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice denying Defendant's Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition for bail review, holding that because the bail determinations were properly made and no violation of Defendant's rights occurred, the single justice did not err or abuse her discretion in denying Defendant's petition seeking review of the bail determination. Defendant's first trial for murder in the first degree and ended in a mistrial. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds, but the motion was denied. A single justice denied Defendant's Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition seeking review of that ruling, and the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed. While Defendant's appeal was pending, bail was set in the cash amount of $250,000. After Defendant unsuccessfully filed a motion for bail review he filed a petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 for bail review. A single justice denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse her discretion in denying the petition. View "Pinney v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court held that possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle is a civil motor vehicle infraction rather than a criminal offense, thus overruling Commonwealth v. Giannino, 371 Mass. 700 (1977), in which the Court held that automobile law violations must encompass the "operation or control" of a motor vehicle. Defendant was charged with possessing open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 20, and other offenses. Defendant argued that the open container charged constituted a civil infraction, rather than a criminal offense. The trial court disagreed, concluding that it was a criminal offense. A jury found Defendant guilty. At issue was whether an open container violation fits within the definition of a "civil motor vehicle infraction," which is defined as an automobile law violation for which the maximum penalty does not provide for imprisonment. The Supreme Court affirmed after analyzing the legislative history and plain language of the open container statute, holding that a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 24I is an automobile law violation and thus a civil motor vehicle infraction. View "Commonwealth v. Mansur" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree, aggravated assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and armed assault in a dwelling house, holding that there was no Brady violation and that the superior court judge did not err in denying Defendant's second motion for a new trial without an evidentiary hearing on the matter. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that newly discovered evidence of later contradictory testimony by the Commonwealth's key witness proved that the prosecution failed to disclose a plea agreement at the time of trial in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce or set aside the verdict on the murder conviction, holding (1) the judge did not err in finding that Defendant's evidence of a Brady violation did not create a substantial issue warranting an evidentiary hearing; (2) the judge did not abuse his discretion in finding that there was no undisclosed plea deal that would require granting Defendant's second motion for a new trial; and (3) the verdict of murder in the first degree is consonant with justice. View "Commonwealth v. Upton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law