Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the trial judge's order allowing Defendant's motion to suppress evidence found on Defendant's cell phone and remanded the case to the superior court for further rulings regarding partial suppression, holding that there was probable cause to search Defendant's cell phone and that the search of the phone was not sufficiently particular because it lacked any temporal limit.When Defendant was arrested in connection with a fatal shooting police officers obtained a warrant to search Defendant's cell phone for evidence related to the crime. The judge allowed Defendant's motion to suppress the cell phone evidence, ruling that the warrant had issued without probable cause because it lacked a sufficient nexus between the murder and Defendant's cell phone and noting that the search was not limited in time. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the suppression order, holding (1) there was probable cause to search Defendant's cell phone; and (2) because the record was silent with respect to the dates of the Commonwealth's proposed evidence, remand was required for a determination of whether the evidence would have fallen within a reasonable temporal limit. View "Commonwealth v. Snow" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that certain materials requested and received by the office of the district attorney for the Suffolk district from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) related to a fatal shooting by federal and state law enforcement officials were exempt from disclosure under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7(f).After Usaamah Rahim was killed, the district attorney opened an investigation into his death, aided by various materials provided by the FBI. Plaintiff later filed a public records request seeking documents related to Rahim's death. When the district attorney refused to provide access to the FBI materials Plaintiff sued the district attorney seeking a declaration that the FBI records were public records that must be produced under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 66, 10. The judge granted summary judgment for the district attorney, concluding that the FBI materials were not public records. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the FBI materials qualified as public records under the public records law; (2) the materials were not exempt from disclosure under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7(a) but some materials qualified for exemption under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7(f); and (3) the remainder of the materials must be remanded to determine whether exemption (f) applies. View "Rahim v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 279, 25(a) of the habitual offender statute allows sentencing judges to impose probation on defendants who fall within its ambit.Defendant was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and armed assault with intent to murder. The trial judge found that section 25(a)'s enhancements applied to Defendant but rejected Defendant's argument that the statute allowed the judge to impose probation. The judge then sentenced Defendant to a term of imprisonment. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed and vacated Defendant's sentence, holding that section 25(a) provides sentencing judges with the discretion to impose probation. View "Commonwealth v. Montarvo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying Defendant's motion for relief from a condition of probation, holding that imposition of the condition did not violate Defendant's rights under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.Defendant pleaded guilty to multiple counts of possession and dissemination of child pornography and was sentenced to concurrent terms of incarceration, suspended subject to compliance with special conditions of probation. At issue was the condition requiring Defendant to allow the probation department to conduct random suspicionless searches of his electronic devices and other locations where child pornography might be stored. Before the Supreme Court, Defendant argued that this condition authorized unreasonable searches in violation of article 14. The Court upheld the condition, holding (1) on its face, the condition subjected Defendant to the continuing possibility of unreasonable searches throughout the term of his probation and was too broad; but (2) properly limited, imposition of the condition did not violate Defendant's rights under article 14. View "Commonwealth v. Feliz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree and related charges and the order denying Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that the trial judge did not err in denying Defendant's request that the jury be instructed on withdrawal from a joint venture.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant was not entitled to an instruction on withdrawal from a joint venture; (2) Defendant was not deprived of the effective assistance of counsel when counsel did not request a supplemental jury instruction to further explain the Commonwealth's burden to prove that the killing occurred during the course of the underlying felony and when counsel did not object to a portion of the prosecutor's closing argument; and (3) this Court declines to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, § 33E to reduce the murder conviction to murder in the second degree. View "Commonwealth v. Tillis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that double jeopardy barred this prosecution because the termination of Defendant's first trial was not justified by manifest necessity.The Commonwealth charged Defendant with carrying a loaded firearm, in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, 10(n), but did not charge him with either of the required predicate offenses of sections 10(a) or (c). At trial, the district court granted Defendant's motion for a required finding of not guilty based on the defect in charging. Thereafter, the Commonwealth obtained a second complaint charging Defendant with violating section 10(a) based on the same conduct. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint based on double jeopardy. The Supreme Court concluded that double jeopardy barred this prosecution because there was not a manifest necessity for a mistrial. View "Commonwealth v. Taylor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's conviction of unlawful possession of a loaded firearm, in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, 10(n), holding that the holding in Commonwealth v. Brown, 479 Mass. 600 (2018) that the Commonwealth must prove Defendant knew that the gun was loaded in order to establish a violation of the statute, applies retroactively to cases on collateral review.Defendant was convicted of several crimes and of a sentencing enhancement for two prior violent crimes under the Massachusetts armed career criminal act (ACCA), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, 10G. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of conviction under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, 10(n) and vacated so much of the judgment of conviction as pertains to the predicate offense of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon as to the ACCA charge, holding (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction of carrying a loaded firearm; and (2) for Defendant's conviction of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon to count as a predicate offense for purposes of the ACCA the Commonwealth must use the modified categorical approach to prove Defendant was convicted of such a crime. View "Commonwealth v. Ashford" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court held that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 85, 17A, sometimes referred to as the panhandling statute, is unconstitutional on its face under the First Amendment to the federal constitution and article 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, as amended, because the statute is a content-based regulation of protected speech in a public forum that cannot withstand strict scrutiny.Under the statute, a person who signals, stops, or accosts a motor vehicle or its occupants on a public way if undertaken for the purpose of panhandling, is subject to criminal prosecution or a fine. The statute, however, exempts the same conduct if undertaken for the purpose of selling newspapers or raising money for a nonprofit organization. Plaintiffs commenced this action asserting that the statute is unconstitutional on its face under the First Amendment and article 16. The Supreme Judicial Court held that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 85, 17A is unconstitutional on its face under the First Amendment and article 16 because it is both over- and underinclusive with respect to the purpose it is intended to serve, is not narrowly tailored, and cannot withstand strict scrutiny. View "Massachusetts Coalition for Homeless v. City of Fall River" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of three counts of murder in the first degree, one count of armed assault with intent to murder, and unlawful possession of a firearm and declined to order a new trial or reduce the degrees of guilt under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the judge did not abuse his discretion in admitting prior bad act evidence or in allowing the substantive use of prior inconsistent grand jury testimony by one trial witness; (2) there was no substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice from trial counsel's decision not to attempt to impeach one witness with his prior grand jury testimony; and (3) impermissible comments made by the prosecutor during cross-examination of Defendant did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice or constitute impermissible burden shifting. View "Commonwealth v. Pierre" on Justia Law

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In these two cases in which Defendants sought stays of execution of their sentences pending appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court provided additional guidance as to how judges who are faced with requests for stays should take into account the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in determining whether a stay is appropriate in any given case.In Daniel Nash's case, the trial judge granted a stay, which a single justice of the Appeals Court vacated. In Joseph Elibert's case, the trial court granted a stay but later revoked it, and a single justice of the Appeals Court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgments of the Appeals Court single justice in each case after addressing the procedural issues concerning these cases, holding that both defendants were entitled to a stay. View "Commonwealth v. Nash" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law