Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the county court denying, without a hearing, 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 relief. Defendant was convicted of several offenses. The Appeals Court reversed the convictions and remanded the matter for a new trial. Thereafter, the Commonwealth filed a nolle prosequi as to all the charges. In his Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition, Defendant alleged that no crime had been committed and that he was wrongfully prosecuted. The single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not demonstrate entitlement to the exercise of this Court's superintendence powers. View "In re Mitchell" 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 for extraordinary relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 seeking an order vacating Petitioner's plea to aggravated rape and dismissing the underlying indictment, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief. The issues raised by Petitioner had all been raised and adjudicated through the normal appellate process. Petitioner then filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The motion was denied, and the Appeals Court affirmed. In this petition for extraordinary relief, Petitioner sought an order vacating his plea to aggravated rape and dismissing the underlying indictment. The single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the superintendence power was not available as an additional layer of appellate review once all other avenues had been exhausted. View "Garden v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the superior court denying Defendant's motion for a new trial and set aside the jury's verdicts of first degree murder and robbery, holding that a recently discovered witness statement made to the police ago constituted newly discovered evidence that "would probably have been a real factor in the jury's deliberations." At issue was Defendant's sixth motion for a new trial, which was predicated on newly discovered evidence consisting of, among other things, a recently discovered statement made to the police in 1972. The superior court denied the motion. As to the police statement, the judge found that it did not constitute newly discovered evidence because Defendant failed to establish that defense counsel did not have possession of it at the time of trial. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) Defendant sustained his burden of establishing that defense counsel did not have the 1972 police statement prior to or at trial, and therefore, the statement constituted newly discovered evidence; and (2) there was a substantial risk that the jury would have reached a different conclusion had the evidence been admitted at trial. View "Commonwealth v. Mazza" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motions to suppress, holding that the limited use of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) in this case did not implicate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. While police were investigating Defendant on suspicion of drug distribution they used ALPRs on two bridges to track Defendant's movements. The police accessed historical data via ALPR technology and received real-time alerts, the last of which led to Defendant's arrest. Defendant filed motions to suppress the ALPR data and the fruits of the arrest. The superior court denied the motions. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that while the widespread use of ALPRs in the Commonwealth could implicate a defendant's constitutional protected expectation of privacy in the whole of his public movements, that interest was not invaded by the limited extent and use of the ALPR data in the instant case. View "Commonwealth v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court entering judgment in favor of the parole board on Plaintiff's appeal from the denial of his application for parole, holding that the board did not abuse its discretion in denying Plaintiff's application. Plaintiff was seventeen years old when he committed murder in the second degree. Plaintiff was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder. Plaintiff later applied for parole, but the board denied the application. Plaintiff sought review, alleging that the board abused its discretion by failing properly to analyze the distinctive attributes of youth in making its determination. A superior court judge granted the board's motion for judgment on the pleadings and denied Plaintiff's cross motion for the same. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the board based its decision on the statutory standard of rehabilitation and compatibility with the welfare of society, and the board adequately considered the distinctive attributes of youth. View "Deal v. Massachusetts Parole Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that, due to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, pretrial detainees who have not been charged with an excluded offense are entitled to a rebuttable presumption of release on personal recognizance and a hearing within two business days of filing a motion for reconsideration of bail and release. To decrease exposure to COVID-19 within correctional institutions, Petitioners sought the release to the community of as many pretrial detainees and individuals who have been convicted and are serving a sentence of incarceration as possible. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the risks inherent in the COVID-19 pandemic constitute a changed circumstance within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58, tenth paragraph, and the provisions of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 57; (2) any individual who is not being held without bail under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58A and who has not been charged with an excluded offense as set forth in Appendix A to this opinion is entitled to a rebuttable presumption of release; and (3) to afford relief to as many incarcerated individuals as possible, the parole board and Department of Corrections are urged to work with the special master to expedite parole hearings and the issuance of parole permits. View "Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of Trial Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of murder in the first degree on the theory of deliberate premeditation and three related charges, holding that there was no reversible error in this case. Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the motion judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence; (2) the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in admitting evidence of a document under the business records exception to the rule against hearsay; (3) the judge's failure to provide guidance to the jury regarding how it should weigh the business records constituted error, but the error did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (4) even if the judge erred in admitting testimony concerning firearms, the error would not have prejudiced Defendant; (5) the trial judge's jury instruction regarding the firearms testimony did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (6) there was no error in the prosecutor's improper statements made in his closing argument; and (7) there was no basis for reducing sentence on the murder conviction or ordering a new trial under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Andre" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of a single justice of the Appeals Court denying Defendant's motion for reconsideration of a stay pending appeal brought after the Governor declared a state of emergency arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, holding that a fundamental change of circumstances required reconsideration of Defendant's motion. On April 29, 2019, a superior court judge revoked Defendant's probation. Defendant later filed with a single justice of the Appeals Court a motion to stay his sentence pending appeal. The single justice denied the motion on February 26, 2020. On March 10, the Governor declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19. On March 23, a superior court judge denied Defendant's new motion for stay of execution of the sentence, apparently on the grounds that he did not have the authority to reconsider Defendant's motion to stay the execution of his sentence because a single justice of the appeals court had already denied the request. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judge's denial of Defendant's motion for reconsideration of a stay pending appeal, holding that it was error for the judge not to reconsider Defendant's motion to stay execution of sentence in light of the rapidly evolving situation arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. View "Christie v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the superior court judge's allowance of Defendant's motion to dismiss three indictments against him for statutory rape and three indictments for forcible rape of a minor for three crimes he allegedly committed against a student in the 1980s, holding that the Commonwealth's evidence established probable cause for only two separate incidents rather than three. At issue in this case were certain provisions of a statute that sets a twenty-seven year statute of limitations on sex crimes against children, a requirement of corroborating evidence if the crimes are charged after the limitation period has expired, and a tolling provision. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the tolling provision in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 277, 63 does not apply to the requirement that child rape charges brought more than twenty-seven years after the commission of the alleged crime be supported by corroborating evidence; (2) the evidentiary requirement of section 63 requires the Commonwealth to present the corroborating evidence to the grand jury; (3) the Commonwealth presented sufficient corroborating evidence to the grand jury in the instant case; and (4) the Commonwealth's evidence established probable cause for only two alleged incidents. View "Commonwealth v. Buono" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of unlawful possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, 18B, holding that the judgment of conviction was not erroneous. On appeal, Defendant argued that his section 18B conviction must be vacated because the Commonwealth failed to indict him for and convict him of an appropriate root felony. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that Defendant's two convictions of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon may serve as the root felony for Defendant's section 18B conviction. View "Commonwealth v. Thomas" on Justia Law