Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated and set aside Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree, armed assault with intent to murder, and firearm offenses, holding that four trial errors required that the verdicts be vacated and set aside and this matter remanded to the superior court for a new trial. Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial court erred in admitting a coventurer's statements against Defendant under the joint venture exemption to the hearsay rule, and admission of the statements was barred by the Sixth Amendment; (2) the trial court erred in admitting the opinion of the Commonwealth's gang expert, and the error was prejudicial; (3) the trial court erred in allowing police witnesses to give their opinions as to the identity of individuals depicted in surveillance footage; and (4) the prosecutor engaged in impermissible argument during closing, and a new trial was required. View "Commonwealth v. Wardsworth" on Justia Law

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In this case involving Defendant's failure to properly install child safety seats in her vehicle, the Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's convictions of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment as to Dylan Riel but affirmed Defendant's two convictions of negligent homicide, holding that there was insufficient evidence to show that Defendant's conduct was wanton or reckless. Defendant was involved in a multi-vehicle accident in which her two nephews - four-year-old Dylan Riel and and sixteen-month-old Jayce Garcia - were fatally injured. At the time of the accident Dylan was seated in the backseat of Defendant's sedan with a seat belt fastened but without an age and size appropriate child safety booster seat. Jayce was in a front-facing safety seat with the straps set too high rather than an age and size appropriate rear-facing safety seat. Defendant was convicted of manslaughter of Dylan, reckless endangerment of Dylan, and negligent motor vehicle homicide of Dylan and Jayce. The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of conviction of manslaughter and reckless endangerment of a child and otherwise affirmed, holding that there was not legally sufficient evidence to show Defendant's conduct was wanton or reckless. View "Commonwealth v. Hardy" on Justia 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 reversible error nor a reason to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to either reduce Defendant's convictions or grant a new trial. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not err in declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; (2) Defendant's age at the time of his crimes - nineteen years old - did not render his sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole unconstitutional; and (3) the trial judge did not clearly err in refusing to grant a new trial due to a partial courtroom closure. View "Commonwealth v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of conviction in this case as to negligent operation and affirmed the judgment of conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, holding that the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant's conviction of negligent operation. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that the trial judge erred in denying his motion for a required finding of not guilty because the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. The Appeals Court affirmed Defendant's convictions. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the evidence was insufficient to warrant a finding that Defendant actually operated his vehicle in such a way as to endanger the lives or safety of the public when there was no other evidence of negligent operation. View "Commonwealth v. Zagwyn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's sentence of three consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after forty-five years, in connection with his conviction of three counts of murder in the first degree, holding that the sentence was within constitutional bounds. Defendant was a juvenile homicide offender and sought resentencing when he was well into adulthood. After the Supreme Judicial Court decided Commonwealth v. Costa, 472 Mass. 139 (2015), the Commonwealth conceded that Defendant was entitled to a resentencing hearing. After a hearing, the sentencing judge reinstated Defendant's sentence. Defendant then filed an application with the Supreme Court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E for leave to appeal from the resentencing judge's ruling, as well as a motion for direct entry of the appeal. The single justice directed entry of the appeal on the question of whether a juvenile homicide offender may be required to serve forty-five years in prison before his first opportunity to seek release based on rehabilitation. The Supreme Judicial Court held that Defendant's sentence did not constitute cruel or unusual punishment in violation of article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. View "Commonwealth v. LaPlante" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court answered in the affirmative a reported question, holding that a defendant who has pled guilty to possession of a large capacity feeding device in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, 10(m) may lawfully be sentenced to State prison for not less than one year nor more than two and one-half years. Defendant in this case pleaded guilty to possession of a large capacity feeding device and related offenses. Over the Commonwealth's objection, Defendant was sentenced to a term of from one to two and one-half years' imprisonment. The Commonwealth filed a motion for reconsideration, seeking a sentence of at least two and one-half years. The trial judge reported a question to the Appeals Court. The Supreme Judicial Court transferred the case to this Court on its own motion and answered the question as follows: A defendant who was been convicted of possession of a large capacity feeding device lawfully may be sentenced to State prison for not less than one year nor more than two and one-half years. View "Commonwealth v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to suppress drug evidence, holding that the reveal of a plastic bag protruding from the cleft between Defendant's buttocks was within the scope of the lawful strip search and that the actions taken by the police were reasonable. During a lawfully strip search following Defendant's arrest, police officers caused Defendant to move a plastic bag from between his buttocks. The bag was revealed to contain individually wrapped plastic bags of heroin and cocaine. Defendant moved to suppress the drugs found in the plastic bag removed during the strip search. The trial court denied the motion. The Appeals Court reversed, concluding that the police were required under the circumstances to apply for a search warrant to remove the bag because they had failed to ascertain that "no portion of the bag was within Defendant's rectum," which search would require a warrant. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that the motion to suppress was properly denied because the Commonwealth met its burden of showing that the protruding plastic bag was not lodged or embedded in Defendant's rectum and that its removal did not cause any manipulation of the rectum. View "Commonwealth v. Jeannis" on Justia Law

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In this case involving the issue of how to allocate responsibility for retaining and preserving exhibits after criminal trials the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the exhibit-transfer orders in two of three criminal cases and affirmed in part and remanded in part the order in the third case, holding that that superior court clerks' offices are responsible for maintaining exhibits post trial unless a clerk's office shows that there is good cause to believe retention would be impracticable. The three postconviction orders at issue in this case, issued by three different superior court judges, required that exhibits in the clerk's office be transferred to local police departments. The district attorney for the northern district petitioned a single justice of the Court seeking to vacate the orders and to require that all exhibits that had been transferred to police departments be returned to the clerk's office. The Supreme Judicial Court held that the clerk's office memorandum in this case was insufficient to satisfy the good cause standard with respect to a baby carriage, but the record supported the judge's decisions with respect to a BB gun, firearms, and ammunition. View "District Attorney for the Northern District v. Superior Court Department" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the county court denying Petitioner's petition for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying Petitioner's request. The Court noted that none of the materials Petitioner filed in connection with his petition established any basis for relief. Further, the Court determined that the dismissal of each case in the superior court was subject to appeal to the appeals court in the ordinary process. In addition to denying relief the Court ordered the clerk of the county court not to accept any further filings from Petitioner in this case. View "Cooper v. CVS Pharmacy" on Justia 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 his sentence imposed as a result of a probation violation as well as from new charges, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief. In 2018, while serving the probationary portion of a sentence he received in 2016, Petitioner was charged with new crimes. Petitioner stipulated to the probation violation as well as to dangerousness. Petitioner then filed his Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition, arguing that several of his constitutional rights had been violated. The single justice denied the petition without a hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that relief was properly denied where Petitioner failed to demonstrate the absence or inadequacy of other remedies. View "Sandman v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law