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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on the theories of premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty and other crimes and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that none of Defendant’s assignments of error warranted reversal. Specifically, the Court held (1) the motion judge did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress statements he made to a psychiatrist in the presence of police officers guarding him at the hospital; (2) the trial judge did not err in instructing the jury regarding the presumption of sanity, the consequences of finding Defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, the failure to take prescribed medications, and reasonable doubt; and (3) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s request for a jury-waived trial pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 263, 6. View "Commonwealth v. Waweru" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on a theory of felony-murder and other crimes and declined to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his claims of error. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not err by denying Defendant’s motion for a required finding of not guilty because there was sufficient evidence to find Defendant guilty of felony murder; (2) the trial judge did not err by admitting tire impression evidence and cell phone number evidence at trial; and (3) the trial judge did not err when it did not instruct the jury, sua sponte, on consciousness of guilt evidence, and Defendant’s counsel was not ineffective for failing to request such an instruction. View "Commonwealth v. Webster" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that, by failing to raise a timely objection to an improper courtroom closure at trial, a defendant forfeits or procedurally waives his or her entitlement to the standard of review designated for meritorious and preserved claims of structural error, even if counsel and Defendant were subjectively unaware that the courtroom had been closed at trial. The motion judge granted Defendant’s motion for a new trial, concluding that because Defendant and his counsel were unaware that the courtroom had been closing during empanelment, counsel’s failure to contemporaneously object to the close did not constitute a procedural waiver of his claim that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Defendant’s claim was procedurally waived despite the fact that he and his counsel were factually unaware of the courtroom closure when it occurred at trial; and (2) where a procedurally-waived Sixth Amendment public trial claim is raised in a motion for a new trial, a reviewing court analyzes the purported error to determine whether the error created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. The court remanded the case for review of Defendant’s claim under the appropriate standard. View "Commonwealth v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for aggravated statutory rape and indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen, holding that the trial judge erred in allowing the prosecutor’s closing argument that invited the jury to infer that Defendant was sexually attracted to children and, therefore, more likely to have committed the crimes charged, but Defendant was not prejudiced. The prosecutor’s comment in this case concerned the purposes for which the jury could consider other bad act evidence that had properly been admitted through the parties’ stipulation. The evidence was admitted to corroborate the victim’s testimony that Defendant showed him child pornography while committing the acts of abuse at issue, but the judge allowed the Commonwealth to argue that the jury could consider the evidence to demonstrate Defendant’s state of mind. The Supreme Court held (1) because Defendant’s state of mind was not at issue, the judge erred in allowing the prosecutor to make that argument in closing; but (2) in light of the prosecutor’s entire closing argument, the evidence presented at trial, and the trial judge’s limiting instructions, Defendant was not prejudiced. View "Commonwealth v. McDonagh" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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After setting forth the factors the Commonwealth must prove to convict a defendant of witness intimidation under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 268, 13B(1)(c)(i), the Supreme Judicial Court held that the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant’s conviction under the Commonwealth’s theory that Defendant violated section 13B(1)(c)(i) by taking away the alleged victim’s cellular telephone to prevent her from calling 911 for help after he had verbally assaulted her. Defendant was convicted of intimidating a witness in violation of section 13B. On appeal, Defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction under section 13B(1)(c)(i) because no view of the evidence would have allowed the jury to conclude that he had committed any crime before he took the victim’s cellular telephone. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) to convict a defendant of witness intimidation under the central provision at issue here, the Commonwealth must prove four elements; and (2) as applied in this case, the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant’s conviction on the theory argued by the Commonwealth at trial. View "Commonwealth v. Fragata" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions on two indictments charging murder in the first degree and declined to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. A jury convicted Defendant for the shooting deaths of Amy Dumas and Robert Finnerty. Both murder indictments were based on a theory of joint venture felony-murder, with armed home invasion as the predicate offense. The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the convictions, holding (1) the Commonwealth established beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant participated in committing armed home invasion as a joint venturer and that the victims were killed in furtherance of that crime; (2) the trial judge’s failure to instruct the jury on the merger doctrine of felony-murder did not give rise to a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; and (3) this Court declines to depart from the holding in Commonwealth v. Brown, 477 Mass. 805, 825 (2017) that the new rule that “a defendant may not be convicted of murder without proof of one of the three prongs of malice” was prospective only. View "Commonwealth v. Buth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Under certain circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug free as a condition of probation, and a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug. Following a probation violation hearing, a district court judge found that Defendant violated her probation and entered an order requiring her to submit to inpatient treatment for her addiction. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the finding that Defendant violated her probation and the order requiring her to submit to inpatient treatment for her addiction, holding that the judge did not abuse her discretion in concluding that Defendant violated her probation. View "Commonwealth v. Eldred" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Here, the Supreme Judicial Court retained the law that an individual whose property is damaged by a neighbor’s healthy tree has no cause of action against a landowner of the property upon which the tree lies. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court judge dismissing Plaintiff’s claims of private nuisance and trespass against Defendants after a tree on Defendants’ property allegedly caused algae buildup on the roof of Plaintiff’s home. The judge dismissed Plaintiff’s claims as precluded by Ponte v. DaSilva, 388 Mass. 1008 (1983). The Appellate Division affirmed. On appeal, Plaintiff conceded that Ponte was controlling but asked that the Supreme Judicial Court overrule Ponte and related cases. The Supreme Judicial Court reaffirmed the Massachusetts rule established in Ponte and related cases, concluding that the rule is not outdated and that there are multiple benefits to the rule. View "Shiel v. Rowell" on Justia Law

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The omission of a merger instruction in this case - where Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on a theory of felony-murder, with aggravated kidnapping as the predicate felony - was not an error because the merger doctrine was inapplicable. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge erred in not providing a merger doctrine instruction, which prevents assault that results in a homicide from serving as the predicate for felony murder, to the jury sua sponte. The motion judge agreed, concluding that the omission of a merger instruction created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice, requiring a new trial. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order granting a new trial and vacated Defendant’s conviction, holding (1) the omission of a merger instruction was not an error because aggravated kidnapping is sufficiently independent of the resulting homicide; and (2) because Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree was predicated on a theory of aggravated kidnapping that did not exist at the time of the homicide, the case must be remanded for a determination of whether a finding of murder in the second degree was supported by the record or whether a new trial was necessary and appropriate. View "Commonwealth v. Fredette" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Commonwealth did not meet its burden of proving compliance with the citation requirement of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90C, 2, which mandates the issuance of a traffic citation “at the time an place of the violation” where a State police trooper issued a traffic citation nine days after the violation. Defendant was the driver of a vehicle that had rolled over. Defendant was transferred the hospital, where State police trooper Jared Gray interviewed Defendant. Defendant admitted that he had been drinking at the time of the accident. Gray did not issue a citation at the hospital but instead submitted his investigation report to his supervisor, who approved the report nine days later. On that day, Gray issued and mailed citations to Defendant. Due did a ZIP code error, however, Defendant did not receive the citation until five to six weeks after the incident. The superior court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss on the ground that Gray had failed to issue a citation “at the time and place of the violation.” The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the dismissal of the indictments, holding that the delay in the citation’s issuance, in the absence of any justification, was inconsistent with the antiabuse purpose of the “no-fix” provision of the statute. View "Commonwealth v. O'Leary" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law