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 theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty, holding that there was no reversible error nor a reason to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to either reduce Defendant's convictions or grant a new trial. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not err in declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; (2) Defendant's age at the time of his crimes - nineteen years old - did not render his sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole unconstitutional; and (3) the trial judge did not clearly err in refusing to grant a new trial due to a partial courtroom closure. View "Commonwealth v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's sentence of three consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after forty-five years, in connection with his conviction of three counts of murder in the first degree, holding that the sentence was within constitutional bounds. Defendant was a juvenile homicide offender and sought resentencing when he was well into adulthood. After the Supreme Judicial Court decided Commonwealth v. Costa, 472 Mass. 139 (2015), the Commonwealth conceded that Defendant was entitled to a resentencing hearing. After a hearing, the sentencing judge reinstated Defendant's sentence. Defendant then filed an application with the Supreme Court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E for leave to appeal from the resentencing judge's ruling, as well as a motion for direct entry of the appeal. The single justice directed entry of the appeal on the question of whether a juvenile homicide offender may be required to serve forty-five years in prison before his first opportunity to seek release based on rehabilitation. The Supreme Judicial Court held that Defendant's sentence did not constitute cruel or unusual punishment in violation of article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. View "Commonwealth v. LaPlante" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to suppress drug evidence, holding that the reveal of a plastic bag protruding from the cleft between Defendant's buttocks was within the scope of the lawful strip search and that the actions taken by the police were reasonable. During a lawfully strip search following Defendant's arrest, police officers caused Defendant to move a plastic bag from between his buttocks. The bag was revealed to contain individually wrapped plastic bags of heroin and cocaine. Defendant moved to suppress the drugs found in the plastic bag removed during the strip search. The trial court denied the motion. The Appeals Court reversed, concluding that the police were required under the circumstances to apply for a search warrant to remove the bag because they had failed to ascertain that "no portion of the bag was within Defendant's rectum," which search would require a warrant. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that the motion to suppress was properly denied because the Commonwealth met its burden of showing that the protruding plastic bag was not lodged or embedded in Defendant's rectum and that its removal did not cause any manipulation of the rectum. View "Commonwealth v. Jeannis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of murder in the first degree on the theories of felony-murder and extreme atrocity or cruelty and declined to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no reason to grant a new trial or to either reduce or set aside the verdict. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant failed to show actual juror prejudice by way of pretrial publicity; (2) the judge did not abuse his discretion in admitting fingerprint evidence because the evidence was properly authenticated; (3) trial counsel did not provide ineffective assistance; and (4) the prosecutor's statements during closing argument did not amount to reversible error. View "Commonwealth v. Mack" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty and declined to exercise its extraordinary authority to afford relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below warranting a new trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that, given his compromised medical and emotional state, the statements he made to police while he was in the hospital should have been suppressed and that the court should reduce the verdict to murder in the second degree. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the conviction, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. View "Commonwealth v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial judge denying Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that a defendant's waiver of his right to a jury of six persons need not be in writing as long as the trial judge ensures, by way of colloquy, that the defendant's decision to proceed is made knowingly and voluntarily. Defendant was convicted of cruelty to animals. During trial, one of the six jurors was excused from service. After conducting a colloquy, the judge found that Defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to a jury of six persons, and the trial continued with five jurors. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge erred in denying his motion for a new trial on the grounds that his waiver was invalid because it was not in writing pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 19(b). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's waiver to his right to a six-person jury was valid. View "Commonwealth v. Bennefield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court Defendant's conviction of first degree murder and declined to exercise its extraordinary powers to grant relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding (1) where a defendant facing trial on a charges of murder, sexual offenses against children, or rape requests individual voir dire on the issue of racial or ethnic prejudice and the defendant and the victim are of different such backgrounds, that request should be granted; but (2) a new trial was not required in this case. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant was not denied the right to a fair and impartial jury when, after members of the jury were exposed to an extraneous influence, the judge did not excuse the entire jury; (2) while the trial judge erred by partially excluding Defendant from the subsequent voir dire of the deliberating jury, Defendant was not prejudiced; (3) Defendant was not deprived of his right to a fair and impartial jury when the judge denied Defendant's request for individual voir dire on questions of ethnic bias; and (4) the judge did not abuse his discretion in certain evidentiary rulings. View "Commonwealth v. Colon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the second degree and the order denying his motion for a new trial, holding that Defendant's sentence was constitutional and that no prejudicial error occurred in the proceedings below. Defendant, who was seventeen years of age at the time of the murder, was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole after fifteen years. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) a mandatory life sentence with parole eligibility after fifteen years for a juvenile homicide offender convicted of murder in the second degree is constitutional; (2) the judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to continue his sentence so that he could present evidence related to his juvenile status; (3) the judge did not err in denying Defendant's request to instruct the jury on accident; (4) Defendant's counsel was not ineffective for not requesting other jury instructions; and (5) the judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress the warrantless "pinging" of Defendant's cellular telephone because no evidence came from the search. View "Commonwealth v. Lugo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court's order granting Defendant's motion to dismiss the cocaine and cash seized during a warrantless search of his residence, holding that Defendant's consent to a search of his residence did not purge the seizure from the taint of an illegal cell site location information (CSLI) search, where the consent was obtained through the use of information obtained from that search. The superior court ruled that the cash and cocaine must be suppressed because they were the fruits of unlawful police tracking of a cellular telephone through which the police obtained CLSI without a search warrant based on probable cause. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) by monitoring the cell phone's CSLI, the police effectively monitored the movement of a vehicle in which Defendant was a passenger, thus giving Defendant standing to challenge the Commonwealth's warrantless CSLI search; (2) the seizure of the cocaine and cash was the direct result of information obtained from the illegal CSLI search; and (3) the Commonwealth failed to meet its burden of proving that the seizure was sufficiently attenuated from the illegal search such that it should not be deemed a forbidden fruit of the poisonous tree. View "Commonwealth v. Fredericq" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the motion judge's allowance of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that police action causing an individual's cell phone to reveal its real-time location constitutes a search in the constitutional sense under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, but, in this case, the warrantless search was supported by probable cause and was reasonable under the exigent circumstances exception to the search warrant requirement. After the police identified Defendant as the suspect in a murder case, the police contacted Defendant's cellular service provider to request the real-time location of Defendant's cell phone. They did so without a warrant. The service provider "pinged" Defendant's cell phone, which caused the cell phone to transmit its real-time GPS coordinates to the service provider. The GPS coordinates were relayed to the police, and the police were able to use that information to locate Defendant. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence as the fruit of an unlawful search. The motion judge allowed the suppression motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the motion judge erred in concluding that the warrantless ping of Defendant's cell phone was not justified by exigent circumstances. View "Commonwealth v. Almonor" on Justia Law