Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, reversed the denial of Defendant's motion for a new trial on the Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, 32J (32J) charge, and vacated the conviction of a violation of section 32J, holding that counsel was ineffective in failing to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence regarding an essential element under section 32J. Defendant was convicted of possession of heroin with intent to distribute and with committing the crime within 100 feet of a public park, in violation of section 32J. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress; (2) with respect to the "public park or playground" provision of section 32J, the intent to commit the underlying drug crime is sufficient, without additional proof of knowledge of park or playground boundaries required; (3) whether an area of land is a public park under section 32J is a question of fact properly left to the fact-finder; and (4) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the variance between the park named in the indictment and the evidence presented at trial. View "Commonwealth v. Matta" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the Commonwealth's appeal from the trial court's allowance of Defendant's motion filed under Mass. R. Crim. P. 25(a), holding that the trial judge erred in reserving decision on Defendant's Rule 25(a) motion and that the error violated Defendant's right to due process and permeated the remainder of the trial. Defendant was charged with murder in the first degree. At the close of the Commonwealth's case Defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty pursuant to Rule 25(a). The judge reserved decision and submitted the case to the jury. The jury found Defendant guilty of murder in the second degree. Defendant subsequently renewed his motion under Rule 25(a). The judge allowed the motion, nunc pro tunc, to the close of the Commonwealth's case. The Commonwealth petitioned for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. The Supreme Judicial Court denied relief, holding (1) in allowing the motion for a required finding nunc pro tunc after the jury returned their verdict the judge deprived the Commonwealth of its right to appeal from a postverdict acquittal; but (2) because the initial error in reserving decision on the motion implicated Defendant's constitutional rights and infected the remainder of the trial, the Commonwealth could not appeal. View "Commonwealth v. Yasin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice of the Court denying Appellant's petition for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that principles of double jeopardy did not bar Appellant's retrial, and therefore, the single justice neither erred nor abused its discretion in denying relief. Appellant was indicted for murder in the first degree and arson in a dwelling. After the jury deadlocked, Appellant's jury trial ended in a mistrial. Appellant subsequently moved to dismiss the indictments, arguing that the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence at his first trial to warrant a conviction with respect to either charge, and therefore, principles of double jeopardy barred his retrial. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to convict Appellant of murder in the first degree, as well as arson in a dwelling. View "Coggins v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court judge allowing Defendant's motion to suppress all evidence related to an illegal seizure on the ground that the stop of his motor vehicle was not reasonable, holding that the police officer's stop of Defendant's motor vehicle for failing to drive entirely within a marked traffic lane was reasonable and, therefore, constitutional. Defendant was charged with a marked lanes violation in accordance with Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 89, 4A and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The judge allowed Defendant's motion to suppress, ruling that Defendant had not violated section 4A, and therefore, the stop of his motor vehicle was not reasonable. The Supreme Court vacated the judge's order, holding that Defendant violated section 4A when he crossed the right-side fog line one time for two or three seconds, and therefore, the ensuing traffic stop was reasonable. View "Commonwealth v. Larose" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree on the theory of deliberate premeditation and the denial of his motion for a new trial, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his allegations of error and that there was no abuse of discretion in the denial of Defendant's motion for a new trial. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not err in allowing certain statements to be introduced at trial; (2) the trial judge did not err in declining to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter; (3) there was not a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice on the basis of counsel's closing argument and no abuse of discretion in the denial of Defendant's motion for a new trial; and (4) there is not reason to grant a new trial or to reduce the verdict pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Moseley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's conviction of involuntary manslaughter but affirmed Defendant's conviction of distribution of heroin, holding that the Commonwealth did not introduce evidence showing that Defendant knew or should have known that his conduct created a high degree of likelihood of substantial harm. Defendant had provided a college student with the heroin that caused the student's death. Defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and distribution of heroin. Defendant appealed, arguing, inter alia, that the judge erred in denying his request to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of possession of heroin for personal use because the student asked Defendant to purchase heroin for him and Defendant did not profit from the sale. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) under the circumstances of this case, the judge did not err in denying Defendant's request for a lesser included jury instruction on simple possession; but (2) there was insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Defendant's conduct created a high degree of likelihood that the student would suffer substantial harm for his use of the heroin. View "Commonwealth v. Carrillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the motion judge denying Defendant's motion for access to evidence and scientific and forensic testing pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278A, holding that, given the evidence presented at the hearing, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion. Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty. Following the enactment of chapter 278A, Defendant sought DNA testing of nine items of evidence seeking permission to test the evidence using newer and more discriminating test kits that had not existed at the time of his conviction. The trial judge denied Defendant's motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Defendant's motion based on the evidence that was presented at the motion hearing. View "Commonwealth v. Linton" on Justia Law

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In this case involving the pretrial diversion of Defendant, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the language of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276A, 3 requires arraignment, at the Commonwealth's request, before a defendant can participate in a pretrial diversion program. Defendant was charged with assault and battery. After Defendant's initial appearance before a judge she moved to continue her arraignment sot hat she could be assessed for eligibility for pretrial diversion. The judge continued the arraignment over the Commonwealth's objection and also ordered, as a condition of release, that Defendant stay away from the alleged victim. Thereafter, the judge determined that Defendant was eligible for pretrial diversion and imposed conditions of release. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the matter for further proceedings, holding (1) under the pretrial diversion statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276A, 3, a judge may not decline to arraign an adult defendant, over the Commonwealth's objection, and instead direct the defendant to a pretrial diversion program; and (2) whether during the screening period prior to arraignment or thereafter if the Commonwealth does not seek arraignment, a judge may order conditions of release, including GPS monitoring by the probation service. View "Commonwealth v. Newberry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court affirming the Sex Offender Registry Board's (SORB) classification of John Doe No. 23656 as a level two sex offender, holding that Doe's claims on appeal were unavailing. Specifically, the Court held (1) contrary to Doe's argument on appeal, the hearing examiner did not disregard the testimony of Doe's expert witness in evaluating the evidence, but rather, declined to "wholly adopt" the expert's conclusions; (2) there was sufficient evidence to classify Doe as a level two sex offender; and (3) Doe failed to demonstrate that his registration information should not be made available on the Internet. View "Doe v. Sex Offender Registry Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen, holding that because there was no evidence that Defendant was acting in his professional capacity when he committed the offense, the judge erred in denying Defendant's motion for a required finding of not guilty. During the time of his offense, Defendant was a police officer in a K-9 unit and was trained as a mandated reporter but was in plain clothes when he assaulted the victim. At the close of the Commonwealth's case, Defendant unsuccessfully moved for a required finding of not guilty. After he was convicted, Defendant appealed, arguing that the Commonwealth did not meet its burden to establish each element of the offense charged. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that because the Commonwealth presented no evidence to suggest that Defendant was acting in his capacity as a police officer at the time of the crime, the judge should have allowed Defendant's motion for a required finding of not guilty. The Court then remanded the matter for entry of a judgment of guilty of the lesser included offense of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen. View "Commonwealth v. Gomes" on Justia Law