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 and declined to exercise its extraordinary power to set aside or reduce the verdict under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that Defendant’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel failed and that the trial judge did not commit reversible error in her rulings. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not err in admitting portions of a recorded police interview; (2) the trial judge properly admitted testimony regarding an argument a witness had with the victim; (3) the judge did not err in disallowing defense counsel’s line of questioning to a witness; and (4) Defendant did not receive ineffective assistance of trial counsel during the proceedings below. View "Commonwealth v. Cruzado" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for murder in the first degree on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty and declined to exercise its authority to grant relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that Defendant’s argument that he was entitled to a new trial for several reasons was unavailing. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant was not deprived of the right to present a defense based on the judge’s exclusion of an out-of-court statement to police made by the only eyewitness to the altercation a few hours after the fight; (2) the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in excluding so-called Adjutant evidence, including an unavailable witness’s recorded statement to police and other evidence of the victim’s violent conduct; and (3) Defendant’s right to a fair trial was not violated by the trial judge’s failure sua sponte to conduct a recusal analysis. View "Commonwealth v. Deconinck" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that a conditional guilty plea is permissible if it is entered with the consent of the superior court and the Commonwealth and identifies the specific ruling from which the defendant intends to appeal. After noting that Mass. R. Crim. P. 12 does not specifically authorize a conditional guilty plea, and nothing in the language of Rule 12 or its amendments contemplates this approach, and neither the Rule nor any statute prohibits a conditional guilty plea, the Supreme Judicial Court, in exercise of its superintendence power, responded to a reported question from a superior court judge on the issue. The Court decided that a conditional guilty plea is permissible so long as it is entered with the consent of the court and the Commonwealth, and the defendant specifies the pretrial motion from which he seeks to appeal at the time the plea is entered. The Court asked the standing advisory committee on the rules of criminal procedure to propose a suitable amendment to Rule 12 to delineate the requirements for conditional guilty pleas. View "Commonwealth v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the motion judge’s denial of Defendant’s motion seeking a new trial on the basis that he was the target of a grand jury investigation and that his grand jury testimony was improperly admitted under Commonwealth v. Woods, 466 Mass. 707 (2014) (Woods I), holding that the motion judge did not err. In Woods I, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the trial judge's finding that Defendant was not a target of the grand jury when he was called before the grand jury to testify. The Court further announced a prospective rule requiring that grand jury witnesses who are targets of a criminal investigation be given self-incrimination warnings before testifying. Following Woods I, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial arguing that new facts established that he was a target of a grand jury investigation. The motion judge concluded that Defendant was a target of the investigation but that the decision in Woods I upholding the admission of Defendant’s grand jury testimony did not depend on the factual finding that Defendant was not a target of the investigation. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the denial of Defendant’s motion for a new trial, holding that, irrespective of Defendant’s target status, he was not entitled to the new rule. View "Commonwealth v. Woods" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the burden and quantum of proof in cases in which sex offenders seek termination of their duty to register under the State’s sex offender registry law, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, 178C-178Q. In this companion case to Noe, Sex Offender Registry Board No. 5340 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, 480 Mass. __ (2018), the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) due process requires that the appropriate quantum of proof in termination proceedings is clear and convincing evidence, and the burden is imposed on the Sex Offender Registry Board, not the sex offender; (2) an offender seeking termination has a burden of production to show a change in circumstances indicating that he or she no longer poses a risk to reoffend or a danger to the public; and (3) hearings on reclassifications and terminations must take place within a reasonable period of time after the issuance of the rescript in the instant case. View "Doe, Sex Offender Registry Board No. 76819 v. Sex Offender Registry Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that reclassification hearings of convicted sex offenders under the sex offender registry law, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, 178C-178Q, require the Sex Offender Registry Board (Board) to meet the same standard and burden of proof as initial classification hearings. Plaintiff was classified as a level three sex offender in 2007. In 2013, Plaintiff filed a request for downward reclassification. After a hearing, the Board denied Plaintiff’s request for reclassification, concluding by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff remained a high risk of reoffense and of dangerousness. A superior court judge vacated the Board’s reclassification, concluding (1) the Board’s regulations placing the burden of proof on the offender seeking reclassification violate the offender’s right to due process, and (2) the Board’s failure to provide counsel for indigent offenders seeking reclassification violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, 178L(3). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) due process requires that the Board be required to prove the appropriateness of the offender’s current classification by clear and convincing evidence; (2) offenders do have a burden of production to show a change in circumstances indicating a decreased risk of reoffense or degree of dangerousness; and (3) indigent sex offenders have a right to counsel in such reclassification hearings. View "Noe, Sex Offender Registry Board No. 5340 v. Sex Offender Registry Board" 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 premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty and other crimes and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that none of Defendant’s assignments of error warranted reversal. Specifically, the Court held (1) the motion judge did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress statements he made to a psychiatrist in the presence of police officers guarding him at the hospital; (2) the trial judge did not err in instructing the jury regarding the presumption of sanity, the consequences of finding Defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, the failure to take prescribed medications, and reasonable doubt; and (3) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s request for a jury-waived trial pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 263, 6. View "Commonwealth v. Waweru" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on a theory of felony-murder and other crimes and declined to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his claims of error. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not err by denying Defendant’s motion for a required finding of not guilty because there was sufficient evidence to find Defendant guilty of felony murder; (2) the trial judge did not err by admitting tire impression evidence and cell phone number evidence at trial; and (3) the trial judge did not err when it did not instruct the jury, sua sponte, on consciousness of guilt evidence, and Defendant’s counsel was not ineffective for failing to request such an instruction. View "Commonwealth v. Webster" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that, by failing to raise a timely objection to an improper courtroom closure at trial, a defendant forfeits or procedurally waives his or her entitlement to the standard of review designated for meritorious and preserved claims of structural error, even if counsel and Defendant were subjectively unaware that the courtroom had been closed at trial. The motion judge granted Defendant’s motion for a new trial, concluding that because Defendant and his counsel were unaware that the courtroom had been closing during empanelment, counsel’s failure to contemporaneously object to the close did not constitute a procedural waiver of his claim that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Defendant’s claim was procedurally waived despite the fact that he and his counsel were factually unaware of the courtroom closure when it occurred at trial; and (2) where a procedurally-waived Sixth Amendment public trial claim is raised in a motion for a new trial, a reviewing court analyzes the purported error to determine whether the error created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. The court remanded the case for review of Defendant’s claim under the appropriate standard. View "Commonwealth v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for aggravated statutory rape and indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen, holding that the trial judge erred in allowing the prosecutor’s closing argument that invited the jury to infer that Defendant was sexually attracted to children and, therefore, more likely to have committed the crimes charged, but Defendant was not prejudiced. The prosecutor’s comment in this case concerned the purposes for which the jury could consider other bad act evidence that had properly been admitted through the parties’ stipulation. The evidence was admitted to corroborate the victim’s testimony that Defendant showed him child pornography while committing the acts of abuse at issue, but the judge allowed the Commonwealth to argue that the jury could consider the evidence to demonstrate Defendant’s state of mind. The Supreme Court held (1) because Defendant’s state of mind was not at issue, the judge erred in allowing the prosecutor to make that argument in closing; but (2) in light of the prosecutor’s entire closing argument, the evidence presented at trial, and the trial judge’s limiting instructions, Defendant was not prejudiced. View "Commonwealth v. McDonagh" on Justia Law