Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for murder in the first degree with deliberate premeditation, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below and no reason for this Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce or set aside the verdict.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the trial judge did not commit prejudicial error in (1) allowing the Commonwealth's peremptory challenges of two prospective jurors over Defendant's objections pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), and Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461 (1979); (2) admitting a graphic autopsy photograph; and (3) allowing rebuttal testimony about overheard telephone statements of a Commonwealth witness imparting that she altered her testimony upon receipt of death threats and denying Defendant's request to conduct consequent voir dire of that witness. View "Commonwealth v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the Sex Offender Registry Board ordering John Doe to register as a level three offender, holding that the Board's decision was not arbitrary or capricious and was supported by substantial evidence.On appeal, Doe argued that the Board should be required to prove new sex offenses by clear and convincing evidence and that the Board's decision was improper because it was not based on new information and the hearing was not held within a reasonable time. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) subsidiary facts, including new sex offenses, need be proved by a preponderance of the evidence, and regardless, there was clear and convincing evidence supporting the level three upward reclassification; and (2) because the Board initiated the reclassification process shortly after receiving information of the new sex offense charges, and because the delays in reaching a final decision were not unreasonable, the Board's decision was proper. View "Doe v. Sex Offender Registry Board" on Justia Law

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In this case involving claims of personal injury and product liability against the manufacturer of a medical device the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision of the superior court judge denying the manufacturer's motion to dismiss, holding that plaintiffs asserting parallel state law claims may do so with no greater degree of specificity than otherwise required under Iannacchino v. Ford Motor Co., 451 Mass. 623, 636 (2008).Plaintiff sued Genzyme Corporation, asserting that Synvisc-One, a class III medical device subject to premarket approval under the Medical Device Amendments (MDA), 21 U.S.C. 360c et seq., was negligently manufactured, designed, distributed, and sold by Genzyme. Genzyme filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the allegations were preempted by federal regulation. The trial judge denied the motion to dismiss. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that while all of Plaintiff's state law claims properly paralleled the federal requirements, none of them was sufficiently pleaded under Iannacchino to survive Genzyme's motion to dismiss. View "Dunn v. Genzyme Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the superior court's judgment allowing Psychemedics Corporation's motion for summary judgment on its claim for declaratory relief against the City of Boston on the ground that it had no duty to indemnify the City on a suit brought against the City arising from positive drug hair tests by Psychemedics, holding that Psychemedics was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.The City contracted with Psychemedics to conduct hair follicle tests for Boston police department officers to screen for the use of illicit drugs. The contracts included an indemnification clause in which Psychemedics agreed to assume the defense of the City and to hold it harmless from claims arising from wrongful or negligent acts by Psychemedics. When a number of officers, who had been terminated in connection with positive drug hair tests, sued the City, Psychemedics sought declaratory relief asserting that it had no duty to indemnify the City. The trial judge granted summary judgment for Psychemedics, concluding that the City had deprived Psychemedics of the opportunity of assuming the defense. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the determination whether Psychemedics did in fact tender a defense that the City rejected should have been left to the trier of fact. View "Psychemedics Corp. v. City of Boston" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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The Supreme Judicial Court held that "a first offense of a [minor] misdemeanor" in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, 52 refers to a first episode of minor misdemeanor level misconduct.Four juveniles with no prior offenses were charged with several offenses, including several minor misdemeanors and a felony charge of inciting a riot, all arising from the same episode. A juvenile court judge dismissed the charges of inciting a riot against all three juveniles and decided not to immediately arraign on the minor misdemeanor charges. At issue was which of the charges constitutes a first offense of a minor misdemeanor pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, 52. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) all of the minor misdemeanors arising out of the single episode for each juvenile constituted a first offense for which the legislature intended a second change and must be dismissed, but the Commonwealth may proceed directly to arraignment on the greater offenses; (2) there was no probable cause to support the charge of inciting a riot; and (3) Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 264, 11 must be read consistently with the limitations in Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). View "Commonwealth v. Manolo M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court answered three questions reported by the juvenile court judge regarding waiver, evidentiary rules, and discovery procedures for hearings conducted under the procedures set forth in Wallace W. v. Commonwealth, 482 Mass. 789 (2019).Juvenile allegedly committed a major misdemeanor against another minor, followed by a minor misdemeanor against the same victim in a separate incident. The Commonwealth moved for a Wallace W. hearing to prove the greater offense, after which the juvenile court judge reported questions of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court concluded (1) the Commonwealth may proceed directly to trial on the greater offense that preceded the first offense, but the Commonwealth may not arraign on the minor misdemeanor until it proves the greater offense; (2) a juvenile's failure to move for a prearraignment Wallace W. hearing on the first offense does not provide subject matter jurisdiction over the first offense; (3) the evidentiary rules laid out in Commonwealth v. During, 407 Mass. 108 (1990), apply to Wallace W. hearings; and (4) notice of the alleged violation and some exchange of discovery are required prior to Wallace W. proceedings. View "Commonwealth v. Nick N." on Justia Law

Posted in: Juvenile Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree on the theory of felony murder and other crimes, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) several challenged statements made by the prosecutor in his closing argument did not constitute prejudicial error; (2) the trial judge did not err by denying Defendant's request for a voluntary manslaughter instruction based on self-defense, reasonable provocation, or sudden combat; and (3) this Court declines to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the verdict or order a new trial on the grounds that Defendant was only nineteen years old at the time of the murder. View "Commonwealth v. Tate" 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 filed pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 seeking relief from a superior court judge's order denying his motion to continue the third day of an evidentiary suppression hearing, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion.At issue before the single justice was whether the trial judge's directive to Petitioner to make a choice whether to appear for an evidentiary hearing in person or via video conference was sufficiently important and extraordinary as to warrant the exercise of the Supreme Judicial Court's extraordinary power pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. The Supreme Judicial Court held that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying Petitioner's petition. View "Malary v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree by deliberate premeditation and of unlawful possession of a firearm, holding that a new trial was not required because there was no error and that there was no reason for the Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the verdict of murder in the first degree.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial judge did not err by declining to give a requested instruction on self-defense; (2) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by allowing the prosecutor to introduce prior bad act evidence; (3) the prosecutor's remarks in her opening statement and closing argument did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (4) trial counsel provided constitutionally effective assistance; and (5) a new trial was not warranted based on purported newly discovered evidence. View "Commonwealth v. Teixeira" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgments entered against Defendant in this criminal case, holding that the trial judge abused his discretion in excusing a juror who claimed to be unable to begin deliberations anew after the discharge of another juror.A jury convicted Defendant of murder in the first first degree on a theory of felony murder, as well as assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury and possession of a firearm. On appeal, Defendant argued that the motion judge erred in denying his motion to suppress and that the trial judge erred in excusing a juror. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgments entered against Defendant, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress; but (2) the trial court's discharge of the juror in question was error, and the error was prejudicial to Defendant. View "Commonwealth v. Williams" on Justia Law