Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles 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, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the judge made no prejudicial error in his evidentiary rulings; (2) nothing in the prosecutor's closing argument created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (3) the trial judge properly instructed the jury regarding murder in the first degree on the theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty; (4) the jury's verdict was consonant with justice; and (5) this Court declines to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the verdict or to order a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Reyes" 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 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 none of Defendant's allegations of error warranted reversal. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury and in admitting conversations recorded while Defendant was in pretrial detention. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the jury instructions did not prejudice Defendant; and (2) there was no violation of Defendant's constitutional rights in the admission of the recorded conversations. View "Commonwealth v. Odgren" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held in this plurality opinion that it is generally advisable for prosecutors to instruct grand juries on the elements of lesser offenses and defenses when such instructions would help the grand jury to understand the legal significance of mitigating circumstances and defenses but that the indictment in this case should not have been dismissed. Specifically at issue was whether the Commonwealth's failure to provide instructions to the grand jury regarding the significance of the mitigating evidence it presented required dismissal of an indictment against an adult for murder in the first degree. The justices who subscribed to this plurality opinion held that the dismissal of an indictment due to the lack of instructions is appropriate when the instructions likely would have given effect to a complete defense. Two other justices would hold that the integrity of a grand jury is impaired by a prosecutor's failure to give instructions only in cases where there has been affirmative prosecutorial misconduct. The Supreme Judicial Court held that because this case failed to satisfy the standards for dismissal set forth in the plurality opinion and the concurring opinion, the indictment should not have been dismissed. View "Commonwealth v. Fernandes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part the superior court's order denying in part and affirming in part Defendant's motions to suppress, holding that the superior court erred in denying Defendant's motions to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his cellular telephone and the cell site location information (CSLI). Police officers asked a Spanish-speaking officer untrained in interpretation to translate Miranda warnings and an interrogation into Spanish. Defendant subsequently waived his rights and spoke with police. Defendant also gave the officers permission to search his telephone. Officers used that information to obtain a warrant for the CSLI on Defendant's phone. Defendant filed several motions to suppress. The superior court allowed the motions with respect to the custodial statements but denied them in all other respects. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the identifications did not require suppression; (2) the translation of the Miranda warnings into Spanish was inadequate to apprise Defendant of his rights; (3) because the search of Defendant's cellular telephone arose from the statements he made following the incomplete Miranda warnings, the evidence obtained as a result must be suppressed; and (4) the affidavit in support of the search warrant for the CSLI did not establish probable cause to access the CLSI for Defendant's device. View "Commonwealth v. Vasquez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the motion judge denying Defendant's second motion for a new trial, holding that there was no clear error or abuse of discretion and that there was no reason for this Court to exercise its power under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the verdict or to grant a new trial. Defendant was convicted of murder. In his second motion for a new trial, Defendant argued that new evidence cast real doubt on the justice of his conviction. After an evidentiary hearing, the motion judge found that Defendant had not met his burden of showing that the new evidence was material and credible or that it cast real doubt on the justice of his conviction. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that there was no abuse of discretion in the motion judge's conclusion that new witnesses who offered testimony implicating someone else were neither credible nor material and did not cast real doubt on the justice of Defendant's conviction. View "Commonwealth v. Bonnett" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the superior court's order denying Defendant's second motion filed under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A seeking DNA testing of biological material pertaining to his sex offense, holding that Defendant satisfied the requirements of chapter 278A, section 2(2). Under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A, 2(2) a person may file a motion for forensic or scientific analysis under chapter 278A if that person is incarcerated "as a result of a conviction." When he filed his motion Defendant was incarcerated in federal prison for failing to register as a sex offender. The Commonwealth argued that Defendant did not satisfy the requirements of the statute because he was not incarcerated for the crime that was the subject of his chapter 278A motion. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that Defendant's current incarceration for failure to register was "as the result of" his sex offense, even though he was not incarcerated for that crime, and therefore, Defendant satisfied the requirements of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A, 2(2). View "Commonwealth v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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