Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty. The court also denied Defendant’s motion for a reduced verdict and declined to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. The court held (1) there was no error committed by trial counsel, the trial judge or the prosecutor that created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; and (2) there was no reason to remand Defendant’s case to the superior court for renewed consideration of his motion to reduce the verdict or to grant him relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Kolenovic" on Justia Law

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In a jury trial of an operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OUI) case, a trial judge should not give a jury instruction that specifically mentions the absence of breathalyzer or other alcohol-test evidence unless the defendant requests it. Defendant was convicted of one count of OUI. During trial, the jury was instructed about the absence of alcohol-test evidence in the judge’s final instructions over Defendant’s objection. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the conviction and remanded for a new trial, holding (1) giving the objected-to instruction regarding alcohol-test evidence constituted error; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the error was prejudicial. View "Commonwealth v. Wolfe" on Justia Law

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Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, 32A(b) and (d) both punish possession with intent to distribute a class B substance, but 32A(b) carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years while 32A(d) carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three and one-half years. Defendant was charged with and convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, second offense, under section 32A(c) and (d), among other crimes. The judge, however, sentenced Defendant pursuant to section 32A(a) and (b). The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case to the superior court for resentencing, holding (1) the judge’s decision not to sentence Defendant pursuant to the statutes under which he was properly charged and convicted was error; (2) the trial judge did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress; (3) there was sufficient evidence to support Defendant’s conviction for assault and battery on a police officer; and (4) the jury instructions on self-defense created no substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Ehiabhi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for murder in the first degree on the theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty and armed assault with the intent to murder, among other crimes. The court held (1) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Defendant’s motion for a mistrial after the Commonwealth’s expert witness purportedly commented on the credibility of Defendant or Defendant’s expert witness; (2) the trial judge did not err in denying motion to vacate the conviction because of a verdict slip error characterizing the armed assault with intent to murder indictment as assault with intent to murder; (3) the judge’s instruction to the jury describing what would happen if the jury found Defendant not guilty by reason of lack of criminal responsibility did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (4) Defendant was not entitled to a jury instruction regarding the effects of drugs on Defendant’s criminal responsibility; and (5) Defendant was not entitled to relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Dunn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for murder in the first degree on a theory of deliberate premeditation and of unlawful possession of a firearm and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the conviction to murder in the second degree. The court held (1) the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress, but Defendant was not prejudiced by the error; (2) the trial judge properly admitted statements of the victim under the state-of-mind exception to the hearsay rule; (3) the Commonwealth’s ballistics expert was competent to testify about the trajectory of the shot that killed the victim; and (4) Defendant received effective assistance of counsel. View "Commonwealth v. Castano" on Justia Law

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At issue was a purely legal question concerning the correct interpretation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 218, 26. The Supreme Judicial Court held that the plain language of the statute confers jurisdiction in the Boston Municipal Court Department (BMC) and the district court over intimidation of a witness or a juror but not over intimidation of any other person. Defendant was convicted in the BMC of intimidating a person furthering a court proceeding. The alleged victim was opposing counsel in a civil action commenced by Muckle. The intimidation conviction was later vacated and the charge dismissed for lack of jurisdiction in the BMC. The Appeals Court reversed the order dismissing the intimidation charge. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the Appeals Court and affirmed the order dismissing the intimidation charge, holding that jurisdiction was absent in this case. View "Commonwealth v. Muckle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment convicting Defendant of five charges stemming from the sexual abuse his two daughters. Specifically, the court held (1) the superior court judge did not abuse his discretion by refusing to issue summonses pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2) regarding the release of the mental health and counseling record of the younger of the daughters; and (2) the judge’s restriction of Defendant’s cross-examination of the younger daughter listing the defense from referencing “bad character” or “bad acts” of the daughter was not an abuse of discretion. View "Commonwealth v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 100A(6), the provision of a statute that retroactively prohibits Plaintiff from sealing the record of her sex offenses because she was once classified as a level two sex offender, as applied to Plaintiff, is both retroactive and unreasonable, and therefore, State constitutional due process precludes the Supreme Court from enforcing it against her. Plaintiff argued that the retroactive statutory prohibition on sealing sex offenses violated her due process rights under the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights because the Sex Offender Registry Board had determined that Plaintiff no longer posed any cognizable degree of dangerousness or risk of reoffending, no longer believed she should be classified as a level two sex offender, and had relieved her of the obligation to register as a sex offender. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with Plaintiff, holding that section 100A applies retroactively to Plaintiff and is unreasonable in its application to her. View "Koe v. Commissioner of Probation" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Judicial Court addressed the scope of criminal liability under the common-law felony-murder rule. A unanimous court concluded that the felony-murder rule is constitutional, but a majority of justices concluded that the scope of felony-murder liability should be prospectively narrowed. The court held that, in trials that commence after the date of the opinion in this case, a defendant may not be convicted of murder without proof of one of the three prongs of malice. The court held that, in the future, felony-murder is no longer an independent theory of liability for murder but is rather limited to its statutory role under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, 1 as an aggravating element of murder. The majority ruled that this holding is prospective in effect and therefore does not affect the judgment reached in this case, where Defendant was convicted of two counts of felony-murder in the first degree based on the predicate felonies of an attempted commission of armed robbery, home invasion, unlawful possession of a firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition. View "Commonwealth v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant’s convictions of two charges of possession of the ingredients to make an incendiary device or substance with the intent to do so, in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, 102(a), and remanded the matter for entry of required findings of not guilty, holding that the evidence presented at trial was not sufficient to establish every element of the Commonwealth’s case. Specifically, the court held that the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to establish that Defendant was without lawful authority to possess three bags of different powders or the incidendiary substance, thermite, that the Commonwealth asserted that Defendant intended to make. View "Commonwealth v. Aldana" on Justia Law