Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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Where an individual has been released on bail pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58 and there is probable cause to believe the individual committed a crime while released on bail, the Commonwealth may seek to revoke bail under either Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58 or Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58B. The judge must then make a determination as to whether the Commonwealth satisfied the requirements of either section 58 or section 58B, under which it sought to revoke bail. Here, the judge found probable cause to believe that a juvenile had committed a crime while released on bail under section 58. The juvenile argued that the judge erred in applying the ninety-day revocation period under section 58B. Specifically, the juvenile argued that the statutes create an ambiguous bit revocation framework, and therefore, the rule of lenity requires the applicable of the sixty-day revocation period under section 58. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) the bail revocation scheme is not ambiguous in its current form, and therefore, the rule of lenity does not apply; and (2) revoking bail under section 58B where an individual has been released on bail pursuant to section 58 and subsequently commits a crime while on release, does not violate due process. View "Josh J. v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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A sentencing judge’s consideration of victim impact statements “as to a recommended sentence” is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and a victim’s right to recommend a sentence pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258B, 3(p) satisfies the requirements of due process. A jury convicted Defendant of assault and battery. At the sentencing hearing, the victim gave an impact statement and recommended a sentence. The judge sentenced Defendant to a lesser term of imprisonment than the sentences recommended by both the Commonwealth and the victim, explaining that in deciding the appropriate sentence, he placed great weight on the victim’s injuries and Defendant’s criminal record. On appeal, Defendant challenged the portion of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258B, 3(p) that permits victims to provide an impact statement “as to a recommended sentence.” The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that “it is neither cruel nor unusual or irrational, nor is it violative of a defendant’s due process guarantees, for a judge to listen with intensity to the perspective of a crime victim.” View "Commonwealth v. McGonagle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice denying Petitioner’s petition filed under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 arguing that when the Commonwealth seeks to indict a juvenile, the grand jury must be instructed on the basic differences between juvenile and adult brains. Petitioner based his argument on the court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Walczak, 463 Mass. 808 (2012), which requires that a grand jury be instructed on the elements of murder and the significance of mitigating circumstances and defenses when the Commonwealth seeks to indict a juvenile for murder. The single justice denied the petition without a hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner’s arguments in support of his petition were unavailing. View "Cepeda v. Commonwealth" 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 pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 arguing that because he had been “lawfully committed to the Department of Youth Services” at the time he committed the crime of murder, he was entitled to a transfer hearing pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, 61, which was then in effect. The single justice concluded that Petitioner was not entitled to a transfer hearing because, when the murder occurred in 1995, a seventeen-year-old was an adult in the eyes of the juvenile and criminal law. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) because a seventeen-year-old was not, at the relevant time, considered a “child,” the juvenile court did not have jurisdiction over the matter; and (2) the fact that Petitioner had previously been committed to the Department was of no relevance because Petitioner would not have been subject to the juvenile court’s jurisdiction in any event. View "Elliot v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The right of an incompetent defendant to raise defenses in a proceeding pursuant to Conn. Gen. Laws ch. 123A, 15, which allows incompetent persons who are unable to stand trial for qualifying sex offenses to be deemed sexually dangerous based on the commission of those offenses, includes that of a lack of criminal responsibility. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the trial judge’s denial of Defendant’s motion to admit expert testimony that he was not criminally responsible for his criminal acts and the judge’s allowance of the Commonwealth’s motion to preclude the testimony, holding that the statute allows incompetent defendants to raise any defenses that they could raise in a criminal trial, including that of a lack of criminal responsibility. View "Commonwealth v. Curran" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the trial court’s allowance of Defendant’s motion for a new trial on the basis that trial counsel was ineffective because he was burdened by an actual conflict of interest. At issue on appeal was whether Defendant presented sufficient evidence to establish that his trial counsel was burdened by an actual conflict of interest. The Supreme Judicial Court held that while Defendant set forth the basis for what may constitute a potential conflict of interest, he failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that his trial counsel was operating under an actual conflict of interest. The court remanded the case to the superior court for a determination of whether there was a potential conflict causing prejudice that would warrant a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Cousin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce to set aside the verdict. The court held (1) the trial judge did not err by failing to find that the Commonwealth’s peremptory challenges of prospective jurors were improper; (2) the trial judge did not err by allowing evidence of Defendant’s gang affiliation and the victim’s brother’s knowledge of neighborhood gang activity; (3) the trial judge did not err by precluding Defendant from cross-examining a police officer witness on prior misconduct; and (4) there was no reversible error arising from the prosecutor’s closing argument. View "Commonwealth v. Lopes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the district court judge denying Defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas, holding that the motion judge correctly determined that Defendant did not satisfy the prejudice requirement of the test set forth in Commonwealth v. Saferian, 366 Mass. 89 (1974). As grounds for his motion, Defendant argued that plea counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to advise him of the duty to register as a sex offender, and its consequences, or explain that Defendant might have sought a continuance without a finding. The district court found Defendant’s affidavit and assertions not credible and denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to satisfy the second prong of the Saferian standard and thus could not prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. View "Commonwealth v. Lastowski" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty and declined to exercise its authority to order a new trial or to reduce the murder conviction to a lesser degree of guilt under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. The court held (1) the trial judge did not err in refusing to permit a defense expert to testify on direct examination to hearsay statements made by Defendant; (2) the trial court did not err in introducing testimony by the Commonwealth’s expert concerning what “drove” Defendant to kill the victim; and (3) the Mutina instruction the judge gave in this case was proper and did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Piantedosi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the convictions of defendants Reginald Holley and Oasis Pritchett for felony-murder in the first degree, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm without a license, as joint venturers, and declined to set aside the verdicts or reduce the degree of guilt pursuant to the court’s authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. The court held (1) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendants’ convictions of felony-murder in the first degree; (2) the trial judge did not err in denying Defendants’ motion to suppress the content of their text messages; (3) the trial judge did not err in declining to instruct the jury on felony-murder in the second degree and in dismissing an ill juror during the jury’s deliberations; (4) the judge did not err by denying Pritchett’s motion to sever Defendants’ trials; and (5) the judge did not err in admitting evidence of prior bad acts and declining to instruct the jury on the requirements of the hearsay exemption concerning joint venturer statements. View "Commonwealth v. Holley" on Justia Law