Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
by
The case involves a defendant, Nelson Barros, who was charged with assault and battery on a household member. Barros, a noncitizen, chose to represent himself during his arraignment and plea hearing. He signed a form acknowledging he had waived his right to counsel. The judge did not conduct any further inquiry to determine whether Barros' waiver of counsel was made knowingly and intelligently. Barros later admitted to sufficient facts to warrant a guilty verdict and was placed on probation for one year. After completing his probation, the charge was dismissed. However, upon returning to the U.S. from a trip to Portugal, Barros was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers due to his admission of guilt in the assault case.The lower courts denied Barros' motions to withdraw his plea. The motion judge found that Barros' waiver of the right to counsel was knowing and voluntary. Barros appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court granted his application for direct appellate review.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that a defendant's waiver of the right to counsel must be made knowingly and intelligently, regardless of whether the defendant is at arraignment or a plea hearing. The court confirmed that a trial court judge has the responsibility of ascertaining whether the waiver is made knowingly and intelligently. The court also recognized that for a noncitizen defendant, the disadvantages of self-representation include forgoing counsel's advice about the immigration consequences of a disposition. However, the court affirmed the lower court's decision on alternate grounds, concluding that Barros' waiver of counsel was invalid, but he failed to establish a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice to prevail on appeal. View "Commonwealth v. Barros" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around a defendant, Nelson Barros, who was charged with one count of assault and battery on a household member. Barros, a noncitizen, chose to represent himself during his arraignment and plea hearing. He signed a form acknowledging he had waived his right to counsel. The judge informed him of his right to counsel and confirmed that Barros wished to represent himself. However, the judge did not conduct any further inquiry to determine whether Barros' waiver of counsel was made knowingly and intelligently. Barros admitted to sufficient facts to warrant finding him guilty and was placed on one year of probation. Later, Barros was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers due to his admission to sufficient facts to find him guilty of assault and battery on a household member.The lower courts denied Barros' motions to withdraw his plea. The motion judge, who was not the plea judge, found that Barros' waiver of the right to counsel was knowing and voluntary. Barros appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court granted his application for direct appellate review.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the lower court's decision but on alternate grounds. The court held that Barros' waiver of counsel was invalid, in violation of his right to counsel under art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The judge did not conduct an adequate inquiry to determine whether Barros' waiver of counsel was made knowingly and intelligently. However, Barros did not challenge this waiver of counsel in his first motion to withdraw his admission to sufficient facts. Therefore, he must establish a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice to prevail on appeal. The court concluded that Barros did not raise a serious doubt that the result of the proceeding might have been different had his waiver of counsel been adequately informed. View "Commonwealth v. Barros" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Brandyn Lepage, who was convicted of first-degree murder on the theory of felony-murder. Lepage shot and killed Aja Pascual in her car on September 29, 2012. The police obtained call logs from the victim's phone, which showed that Lepage had called the victim shortly before her death. The police also obtained Lepage's cell phone records, including call detail records, historical cell site location information (CSLI), and ping data, without a warrant. Lepage appealed his conviction and the denial of his motion for a new trial, arguing that the police illegally obtained his cell phone records.The Superior Court Department had denied Lepage's pretrial motions to suppress the cell phone records. The court found that the police did not illegally obtain Lepage's call detail records and did not use the CSLI or ping data in the manner Lepage alleged. Lepage's motion for a new trial was also denied by the same judge who had previously denied his motions to suppress.The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Lepage's conviction of murder in the first degree and the denial of his motion for a new trial. The court concluded that Lepage did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his call detail records, and therefore the police did not need a warrant to obtain this information. The court also found that the police did not use Lepage's CSLI or ping data to secure evidence against him. Therefore, the court concluded that there was no violation of Lepage's constitutional rights. However, the court vacated Lepage's conviction of unlawful possession of a firearm and remanded for a new trial on that indictment. View "Commonwealth v. Lepage" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around Quasim Hastings, a prisoner convicted of second-degree murder in 2004 and eligible for parole consideration. Hastings, diagnosed with a mental disability, is entitled to a parole hearing that provides him with protections under the Massachusetts Constitution and Federal and State statutes prohibiting discrimination based on disability. Prior to a 2023 parole hearing, Hastings' counsel filed a motion for funds to retain a forensic psychologist and a social services advocate to assist with preparing a prerelease plan. While the motion for a forensic psychologist was approved, the request for a social services advocate was denied by a different Superior Court judge, who reasoned that the indigency statute limits his authority to approve funds to pending proceedings or appeals in any court.The judge's denial of the motion for funds was reported to the Appeals Court, and Hastings's application for direct appellate review was granted by the Supreme Judicial Court. The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that Hastings's motion for funds to retain a social services advocate implicates his State constitutional right to reasonable disability accommodations. Therefore, the constitutionally mandated exception to the indigency statute applies, and the order denying Hastings's motion for funds was reversed. The court held that a judge has the discretion to allow a motion for funds to pay for expert assistance as reasonably necessary to safeguard the indigent prisoner's constitutional rights prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. View "Commonwealth v. Hastings" on Justia Law

by
The defendant, Warren W. Dunn, was charged with two counts of possession of child pornography and two counts of possession of child pornography as a subsequent offense. The charges were based on evidence found in his apartment during a search conducted under a warrant. The warrant was issued based on an affidavit by a state trooper, who had received a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) about two images flagged as potential child pornography by Microsoft. The trooper described the images in his affidavit but did not attach them. The defendant had previously been arrested in 2007 for possession of child pornography.In the Superior Court, the defendant filed motions to suppress the evidence and for a hearing on the affidavit supporting the search warrant. The court denied both motions. The defendant then pleaded guilty to all charges, preserving his right to appeal the denials of his motions.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the lower court's decisions. The court held that, although attaching the photographs or providing a more detailed description would have been preferable, the affidavit as a whole was sufficient to establish probable cause for the search warrant. The court also held that the motion judge did not abuse her discretion in concluding that the defendant failed to demonstrate that the trooper's descriptions of the images were false. The court declined to create a new rule requiring magistrates to personally view allegedly lewd images before issuing search warrants. View "Commonwealth v. Dunn" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The case involves a juvenile who was apprehended with firearms and ammunition and charged with various offenses. After being arraigned as a youthful offender, the juvenile was diagnosed with several information-processing disorders, including a language-based learning disorder. The juvenile was found incompetent to stand trial but capable of attaining competency in the future. However, after two competency proceedings, the juvenile was again found incompetent to stand trial, and the judge declined to make a definite finding on whether the juvenile could attain competency in the foreseeable future. The juvenile filed motions to dismiss the charges under the statute governing the dismissal of pending charges against incompetent persons, but these motions were denied.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was tasked with deciding three main issues. First, whether the mental health code provides for the remediation of incompetent juveniles, particularly those incompetent but not mentally ill. Second, whether, in the absence of remediation programming under the mental health code, the ability to create and mandate remediation programming is within the scope of the Juvenile Court's inherent authority. Lastly, whether the pending charges against the juvenile can be dismissed "in the interest of justice."The court held that the mental health code does not provide for the remediation of juveniles found incompetent for reasons other than mental illness. It also rejected the argument that the ability to create and mandate remediation programming for incompetent juveniles falls within the purview of the Juvenile Court's inherent authority, stating that the creation of remediation programming falls within the purview of the Legislature. Regarding the dismissal of charges, the court remanded the matter to the Juvenile Court for further findings on whether the juvenile poses a present danger to the community. View "Makis M. v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The case involves a professional photographer who sexually exploited a minor. The defendant initially contacted the victim through a social networking site and began communicating with her through various means, eventually soliciting and receiving explicit images of the victim. The defendant also met the victim in person and sexually abused her. After the victim's parents reported the exploitation to the police, an investigation was launched. The police seized a computer tower, an external hard drive, and other items from the defendant's former residence. A forensic examination of the hard drives revealed explicit images of the victim, communications between the defendant and the victim, and hundreds of images of unidentified females in various stages of undress.The defendant was indicted on multiple counts, including aggravated rape of a child and enticement of a minor. He pleaded guilty to all charges, except for the eight counts of aggravated rape of a child, where he pleaded guilty to the lesser included offense of statutory rape. After being sentenced, the defendant filed a motion for the return of the seized property. The Commonwealth opposed the return of the property, arguing that it was in the "public interest" to destroy the devices. The Superior Court denied the defendant's request for the return of certain property.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted an application for direct appellate review. The court concluded that the procedural requirements set forth in G. L. c. 276, §§ 4 to 8, must be followed before a forfeiture decree may be issued under G. L. c. 276, § 3. The court vacated the Superior Court orders denying the return of certain property to the defendant and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Commonwealth v. James" on Justia Law

by
In 2005, Leon Robinson was convicted of first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm for the 2001 shooting death of Recardo Robinson. The incident occurred in a barbershop after an argument between the two men. Several witnesses identified Leon as the shooter. The prosecution also presented evidence of a small bloodstain on Leon's jacket that matched the victim's DNA. Leon appealed his convictions and the denial of his motion for a new trial, arguing that evidence obtained from his apartment was wrongly admitted, his right to self-representation was violated, the prosecutor acted improperly, and his counsel was ineffective.The Superior Court Department had previously denied Leon's pretrial motion to suppress evidence from his apartment. Leon argued that the search warrant was erroneously granted, but the Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, finding that the warrant was supported by probable cause. Leon's motion for a new trial was also denied by the Superior Court Department. He argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for not introducing certain evidence and not retaining expert witnesses, but the Supreme Judicial Court found these decisions to be strategic and not manifestly unreasonable.The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Leon's murder conviction, finding no errors that would have influenced the jury's decision. However, the court vacated his conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm. The court ruled that, in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, the absence of a license was an essential element of the firearm possession offense that the prosecution needed to prove. The case was remanded for a new trial on the firearm charge. View "Commonwealth v. Robinson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The case involves Terrence Tyler, who was convicted of felony-murder in the first degree with the predicate felony of attempted unarmed robbery and assault with intent to rob. The incident occurred during a planned robbery of a marijuana dealer, Wilner Parisse, who was shot and killed during a physical altercation. Tyler appealed his conviction and filed two motions for a new trial. The first motion argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for not requesting an involuntary manslaughter jury instruction. The second motion requested the retroactive application of a court decision (Commonwealth v. Brown) that abolished felony-murder as an independent theory of liability for murder. Both motions were denied.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reviewed Tyler's case and his motions for a new trial. The court held that the rule in Brown was intended to apply prospectively, and there was no reason to depart from that limitation. The court also found that Tyler's trial counsel did not err by failing to request an involuntary manslaughter instruction, as the pre-Brown default rule applies here. The court further held that the trial judge's instruction did not allow the jury to find Tyler guilty of felony-murder for conduct only sufficient to convict him of manslaughter. The court declined to reduce the verdict of murder in the first degree to a lesser degree of guilt. Therefore, Tyler's conviction was affirmed, and the orders denying his motions for a new trial were also affirmed. View "Commonwealth v. Tyler" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts heard an appeal involving Bradley Zucchino, who was charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, causing serious bodily injury and death. Zucchino challenged the admissibility of his blood alcohol content (BAC) evidence, arguing that it was collected without his consent, contravening G. L. c. 90, § 24 (1) (e). The court had to determine whether the Commonwealth needed the defendant's consent to admit his BAC results in the prosecution of a G. L. c. 90, § 24L (OUI-SBI) offense.The court determined that the language of G. L. c. 90, § 24 (1) (e) was clear and unambiguous, applying specifically to violations of § 24 (1) (a), or simple OUI. The court noted that if the Legislature had intended the consent requirement of § 24 (1) (e) to apply to aggravated OUI offenses, it would have made this explicit. The court stated that it is within the Legislature's purview to treat simple OUI and aggravated OUI offenses differently, including with regard to the admissibility of evidence.Therefore, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that the consent provision of § 24 (1) (e) does not apply to violations under any other section or chapter, including G. L. c. 265, § 13 1/2, or G. L. c. 90, § 24L. The court affirmed the lower court's denial of Zucchino's motion to suppress his BAC results. View "Commonwealth v. Zucchino" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law