Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of a single justice of the court denying the Commonwealth's petition for relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 and remanded the case for entry of a judgment vacating a superior court judge's order allowing Defendant's motion in limine to exclude prior recorded testimony, holding that the judge erred in precluding the prior testimony. Here, the Commonwealth had no alternative avenue to obtain review of the judge's allowance of Defendant's motion in limine. At issue, then, was whether the Commonwealth's claim was "exceptional" for purposes of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 3. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the single justice abused his discretion in determining that there were no exceptional circumstances in this case; and (2) the evidence was admissible because it satisfied the hearsay exception for prior recorded testimony and the constitutional restraints on that exception. View "Commonwealth v. Fontanez" on Justia Law

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In this appeal brought by Defendant challenging his conviction of murder in the first degree on a theory of felony-murder the Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's underlying felony conviction of armed robbery as duplicative, affirmed Defendant's remaining convictions, and affirmed the denial of Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that a conviction on an underlying felony is duplicative of a felony-murder conviction, and the underlying felony must be vacated. The Supreme Judicial Court further 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 of murder in the first degree, holding (1) Defendant failed to establish that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance; (2) the Commonwealth did not engage in impermissible burden shifting by suggestion that Defendant had a duty to obtain or preserve evidence during a police interview; and (3) where Defendant was convicted of felony-murder in the first degree with the predicate offenses of both armed robbery and armed home invasion, a conviction on all three counts violated double jeopardy protections. View "Commonwealth v. Simon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the motion court's order denying Defendant's motion filed under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A asserting his factual innocence and requesting forensic testing of certain evidence, holding that Defendant's motion satisfied the threshold burden of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A, 3(b)(4). Defendant was convicted of home invasion, armed assault in a dwelling, rape, and assault and battery. Defendant later filed a motion pursuant to chapter 278A seeking postconviction forensic and scientific testing of evidence and biological material to support a motion for a new trial. The motion judge denied the motion, concluding that Defendant's claim that no crime occurred in this case was barred from chapter 278A relief because it did not put identity at issue. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed on the basis of its opinion today in Commonwealth v. Williams, 481 Mass. __ (2019), holding that Defendant's motion satisfied the threshold burden of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A, 3(b)(4) because, as stated in Williams, "a defendant who asserts that the requested testing has the potential to result in evidence that is material to his or her identity as the perpetrator of the crime because no crime in fact occurred satisfies the [section] 3(b)(4) requirement." View "Commonwealth v. Putnam" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the motion judge denying Defendant's Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A, 3 motion, holding that Defendant, who claimed that no crime occurred, made a prima facie case for a chapter 278A request. Defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition. Defendant later filed this motion under chapter 278A alleging that he acted in self-defense. Defendant sought forensic testing of evidence, claiming that the testing would show that the weapon belonged to the victim and that Defendant shot the victim in self-defense. The motion judge denied Defendant's motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that Defendant satisfied the requirement of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A, 3(b)(4) by properly asserting his factual innocence and asserting that the requested testing had the potential to result in evidence that was material to Defendant's identity as the perpetrator of the crime in the underlying case. View "Commonwealth v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the trial judge to grant Defendant's motion to revise and revoke his sentence to match that of his coventurer, holding that a judge may allow a defendant's motion to revise and revoke a sentence under Mass. R. Crim. P. 29(a)(2) based upon the disparity between the defendant's sentence and a coventurer's sentence subsequently imposed by a different judge. Defendant was convicted of armed robbery and other charges. Defendant received a prison sentence fo from six to eight years on the robbery count. After a separate trial before a different judge, Defendant's coventurer received a prison term of from five to seven years for armed robbery. Defendant filed a motion to revoke and revoke based on the disparity between those two sentences. The judge reduced Defendant's sentence to match the sentence of the coventurer. The Appeals Court reversed, concluding that the judge's decision was improperly based on an event that occurred after Defendant had already been sentenced. The Supreme Judicial Court granted further review and held that, under the circumstances of this case, the judge did not abuse her discretion in considering the coventurer's later-imposed sentence where the coventurer was more culpable and received a more lenient sentence. View "Commonwealth v. Tejeda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint charging unlawful possession of a firearm on constitutional grounds and denied Defendant's request for a new trial on the grounds of alleged errors in the jury instructions and asserted improper questioning of a witness by the prosecutor, holding that there was not a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice in this case. Defendant, a firearm owner licensed to carry firearms in New Hampshire, did not obtain a Massachusetts firearm license within the statutory time period for new residents. Defendant was convicted of firearm-related offenses. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss where there was no doubt that Defendant lacked a Massachusetts firearm license and that Defendant could have applied for such a license within the statutory period filling his arrival in the Commonwealth; (2) Defendant suffered no prejudice from the jury instructions he challenged on appeal; and (3) the question the prosecutor posed to the witness in this case did not create a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Harris" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the single justice's judgment denying Defendant's petition for relief challenging the denial of his bail requests, holding that the bail judge did not abuse his discretion or commit an error of law in denying Defendant's bail request. After Defendant's indictment and arraignment for murder in the first degree and related charges, a superior court judge ordered Defendant to be held without right to bail. Defendant's ensuing requests for admission to bail were denied. Defendant petitioned for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, which a single justice of the county court denied. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed after reviewing and applying the legal standards for bail decisions, holding (1) a defendant charged with murder in the first degree has no right to bail but may be admitted to bail in the discretion of the judge; and (2) the bail judge did not make a clear error of judgment in weighing the factors relevant to his decision such that the decision fell outside the range of reasonable alternatives. View "Vasquez v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the motion judge's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress and Defendant's convictions of breaking and entering and larceny, holding that the Commonwealth's act of accessing and reviewing historical GPS location data recorded from a GPS monitoring device that was attached to Defendant as a condition of his probation was not a search in the constitutional sense. Specifically, the Court held (1) although the original imposition of GPS monitoring as a condition of Defendant's probation was a search, it was reasonable in light of Defendant's criminal history and apparent willingness to recidivate while on probation; (2) once the GPS device was attached to Defendant, he did not possess a reasonable expectation of privacy in data targeted by police to determine his whereabouts; and (3) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's convictions of breaking and entering in the nighttime and larceny over $250. View "Commonwealth v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Judicial Court held that, as applied to Defendant, GPS monitoring as a condition of Defendant's probation was an unconstitutional search under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. Defendant was convicted of possession and distribution of child pornography. The terms of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, 47 requires judges to impose GPS monitoring as a condition of probation for individuals convicted of most sex offenses. In accordance with the statute, the sentencing judge imposed GPS monitoring as a condition of Defendant's probation. Defendant appealed, arguing that, as applied to him, the condition of mandatory GPS monitoring constituted an unconstitutional unreasonable search. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, 47 is over inclusive in that GPS monitoring will not necessarily constitute a reasonable search for all individuals convicted of a qualifying sex offense; (2) to comport with article 14, prior to imposing GPS monitoring on a defendant, a judge is required to conduct a balancing test weighing the Commonwealth's need to impose GPS monitoring against the defendant's privacy invasion arising by the monitoring; and (3) in the instant case, the Commonwealth's particularized reasons for imposing GPS monitoring on Defendant did not outweigh the privacy invasion that GPS monitoring entails. View "Commonwealth v. Feliz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendants’ convictions of murder in the first degree by reason of extreme atrocity or cruelty and felony-murder and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to grant a new trial or to reduce the verdicts, holding that no prejudicial error occurred. The defendants in this case were Alexander Gallett and Michel St. Jean. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed their convictions, holding (1) the motion judge did err in failing to suppress statements that Gallett made to police during his interrogation; (2) there was sufficient evidence to support St. Jean’s murder conviction; (3) St. Jean was not prejudiced by the admission of statements from Gallett’s redacted police interrogation; (4) the judge did not err in denying St. Jean’s requests for various jury instructions; (5) the trial judge did not improperly invoke juror sympathy; (6) there was no prejudicial error in limiting the cross-examination of certain witnesses; and (7) it was not reversible error for the judge to decline to give a humane practice jury instruction. View "Commonwealth v. Gallett" on Justia Law