Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the superior court's denial of Defendant's motion seeking a refund of fees associated with his vacated convictions, holding that due process principles required a refund of a drug analysis fee but did not require a refund of other fees. Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of distribution of cocaine. Defendant later sought a new trial due to the misconduct of Sonja Farak, a chemist who analyzed the substances seized in Defendant's case. The indictments were subsequently dismissed with prejudice on the Commonwealth's motion. Thereafter, Defendant filed a motion seeking a refund of fees associated with the vacated convictions, including the drug analysis fee and fees Defendant incurrent on an account he was obligated to maintain while he was incarcerated. The superior court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order to the extent that the order denied a refund of the drug analysis fee and affirmed the order in all other respects, holding that Defendant was entitled to a refund of a drug analysis fee but that neither statute nor due process required that fees Defendant incurred on his inmate account be refunded. View "Commonwealth v. Watt" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the jury's verdict convicting Defendant of murder in the first degree, holding that the motion judge abused his discretion in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial because defense counsel's failure to request a voluntary manslaughter instruction created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. In his motion for a new trial, Defendant contended that his trial counsel's performance was deficient because counsel failed to request a voluntary manslaughter jury instruction based on reasonable provocation. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the matter to the superior court for a new trial, holding that the motion judge abused his discretion in determining that trial counsel's decision not to request a voluntary manslaughter instruction was a reasonable tactical choice. View "Commonwealth v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58A permits a superior court judge to conduct a dangerousness hearing upon a defendant's first appearance in that court, regardless of whether that appearance is pursuant to a post-indictment summons or to an arrest warrant. Defendant was indicted on three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child and other crimes. Defendant complied with a summons, and was subsequently arraigned. At arraignment, the Commonwealth moved for pretrial detention. Defendant opposed the motion, arguing that the Commonwealth lacked the right to seek a dangerousness hearing because Defendant had not been "subject to arrest" or "held under arrest" when he appeared for his arraignment. A superior court judge allowed the motion for pretrial detention. Defendant then filed an emergency petition for interlocutory review seeking to vacate the order of pretrial detention. The Supreme Judicial Court denied the petition, holing that a superior court judge has authority to conduct a dangerousness hearing under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58A regardless of whether a defendant appears before the judge for the first time pursuant to a summons or an arrest warrant. View "Finn v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this matter concerning the search of a warehouse pursuant to a warrant that was issued in part based on the odor of unburnt marijuana the Supreme Judicial Court remanded this matter to the district court for further proceedings, holding that the warrant affidavit supported a finding of probable cause to search the commercial building for evidence of illegal marijuana cultivation. Defendant filed a motion to suppress due to a lack of probable cause to issue the warrant. Before the district court judge had issued a decision on the motion, the parties requested that the judge report a question to the appeals court. The judge allowed the request and reported the question. The Supreme Judicial Court transferred the appeal to this Court and concluded that the search warrant affidavit established probable cause to search the warehouse for evidence of marijuana cultivation. View "Commonwealth v. Long" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the municipal court denying Defendant's motion to withdraw his admission and vacate the court's finding of sufficient facts for a finding of guilty on two counts of assault by means of a dangerous weapon, holding that reversal was required where the challenged admission led to removal proceedings. After his admission and the commencement of deportation proceedings, Defendant unsuccessfully moved to withdraw his admission based on the contention that the judge failed to provide the general advisory warning that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 29D entitles every criminal defendant to receive. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the immigration consequences warning articulated by the plea judge during the colloquy did not suffice "so to advise" Defendant, as required by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 29D. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the offense-specific warning provided to Defendant was confusing and was neither equivalent to, nor an adequate substitute for, the more general advisory that Defendant was entitled to under the statute. View "Commonwealth v. Petit-Homme" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree with deliberate premeditation, assault by means of a dangerous weapon, armed assault with intent to murder, and other crimes, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the evidence was sufficient to sustain Defendant's murder conviction; (2) a firearm or other gun need to be operational to prove either assault by means of a dangerous weapon or armed assault with intent to murder because armed assault with intent to murder requires only that the defendant think his weapon is operational; (3) the instructions were not correct with respect to armed assault by means of intent to murder and assault with a dangerous weapon, but Defendant was the beneficiary of the error; and (4) there was no reason for the Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to grant a new trial or to reduce to set aside the verdict of murder in the first degree. View "Commonwealth v. Buttimer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty and declined to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no basis to set aside or reduct the verdict. Specifically, the Court held (1) the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the conviction of murder in the first degree; (2) there was no reversible error in the manner in which the judge handled two issues that arose in connection with two sitting jurors; (3) the judge did not err in admitting prior bad acts evidence to show motive; and (4) the statements made by the Commonwealth during closing argument were proper. View "Commonwealth v. Robinson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of murder in the first degree on a theory of deliberate premeditation and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to grant a new trial or to reduce or set aside the verdict, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of Defendant's prior bad acts; (2) Defendant was not prejudiced by the judge's decision not to give Defendant's preferred eyewitness instruction; (3) there was no abuse of discretion in the judge's decision to deny Defendant's motion for a mistrial; and (4) there was no basis to grant extraordinary relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Bryant" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of murder in the first degree on a theory of deliberate premeditation, holding that the Commonwealth erroneously elicited false testimony and failed to correct the false testimony, which created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. During trial, a state police trooper testified that Defendant told police during two separate interviews that he was picked up on the night of the shooting in the area of a Dunkin' Donuts restaurant that was near the crime scene. Defendant moved for a new trial, arguing that the trooper testified falsely. The judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) as made clear by the trooper's police reports and transcripts of Defendant's interviews with police, Defendant never told police that he was picked up or near Dunkin' Donuts; (2) because the testimony was blatantly false and pertained to a critical component of the Commonwealth's case, it was error for the prosecutor not to correct the testimony; and (3) the error created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Ware" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's convictions, holding that the motion judge committed reversible error in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search and seizure of a motor vehicle in which he was a passenger and in denying Defendant's postconviction motion for discovery of wiretap recordings of his conversations with a confidential informant. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the convictions and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) Defendant's motion to suppress should have been granted because Defendant was subjected to an illegal seizure, and the evidence obtained from the subsequently impoundment and search of the vehicle was the direct result of the illegal seizure, and the error was not harmless; (2) the trial judge did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant's prior bad acts; and (3) the motion judge properly denied Defendant's postconviction motion for a new trial but erred in denying the motion for discovery. View "Commonwealth v. Tavares" on Justia Law