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, holding that the seating of a certain juror did not violate Defendant's right to a fair and impartial jury. On appeal, Defendant argued that the seating of an alleged biased juror violated his right to a fair and impartial jury under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) the trial judge conducted a sufficient colloquy with the juror to determine that he would not be a biased juror; and (2) the defense that the Commonwealth did not meet its burden of proof was without merit, and this Court declines to reduce the degree of guilt or order a new trial under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Lee" 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 felony-murder and armed robbery and declined to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. The Court held (1) the trial judge violated Defendant’s right to confront witnesses by allowing the jury to be exposed to certain hearsay, but the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the trial judge erred by allowing a substitute expert witnesses to testify to a match between the defendant's DNA profile and one obtained from the victim's clothing, but the error did not result in a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (3) Defendant’s trial counsel was not ineffective; and (4) government officials did not commit unconstitutional misconduct in the course of investigating and prosecuting Defendant. View "Commonwealth v. Seino" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, five students who attend public schools in the city of Boston, failed to state a claim for relief in their complaint alleging that the charter school cap under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71, 89(i) violates the education clause and the equal protection provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution because Plaintiffs were not able to attend public charter schools of their choosing. Plaintiffs sued the Secretary of Education, the chair and members of the board of secondary and elementary education, and the Commissioner of Education seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The motion judge granted the motion, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim under either the education clause or the equal protection provisions of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs failed to allege facts suggesting not only that they had been deprived of an adequate education but that Defendants failed to fulfill their constitutionally prescribed duty to educate; and (2) there was no plausible set of facts that Plaintiffs could prove to support a conclusion that the charter school cap did not have a rational basis. View "Doe No. 1 v. Secretary of Education" on Justia Law

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The absolute prohibition against civilian possession of stun guns under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, 131J violates the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Defendant was charged with possession of a stun gun, among other crimes. Defendant to dismissed that count of the complaint, arguing that section 131J’s criminal prohibition of the possession of stun guns by civilians violates the Second Amendment. The trial judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the district court’s order denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss and directed the judge to allow the motion, holding (1) stun guns are “arms” within the protection of the Second Amendment and therefore may be regulated but not absolutely banned; (2) consequently, the absolute prohibition in section 131J that bars all civilians from possessing or carrying stun guns, even in their home, violates the Second Amendment; and (3) section 131J in its current form is facially invalid. View "Ramirez v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s two convictions of murder in the first degree, holding that none of Defendant’s allegations of error warranted reversal. Specifically, the Court held (1) the pretrial motion judge did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress statements he made to Canadian law enforcement officers; (2) the trial judge did not commit reversible error in ordering the pretrial disclosure of Defendant’s mental health expert’s report, which the prosecution had in its possession during its subsequent cross-examination of Defendant; (3) the evidence at trial did not demonstrate Defendant’s lack of criminal responsibility for the murders; (4) defense counsel did not provide ineffective assistance; and (5) State police investigators did not deny Defendant his right to a complete defense when they failed to collect certain evidence relevant to Defendant’s intoxication at the time of the crimes. View "Commonwealth v. Wright" on Justia Law

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The police in this case had the authority to stop and perform a Terry-type search of a motor vehicle after an anonymous 911 caller reported that the driver of the vehicle threatened the caller, a fellow motorist, with a gun. Defendant, the driver of the vehicle at issue, was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon. On appeal, Defendant argued that the police lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle, and therefore, the trial court should have suppressed the pellet gun found in his vehicle. The Appeals Court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the information possessed by the police gave them reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop and perform a protective sweep of Defendant’s vehicle; (2) given the safety concerns of the police, reasonable suspicion was all that was required; and (3) therefore, the motion judge properly denied the motion to suppress. View "Commonwealth v. Manha" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court declined, in this case, to depart from the tenet that a traffic stop constitutes a reasonable seizure for purposes of article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights where a police officer has observed a traffic violation, notwithstanding the officer’s underlying motive for conducting the stop. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence seized during a traffic stop and affirmed Defendant’s conviction of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, holding (1) the stop at issue was justified based on the law enforcement officer’s observation of the vehicle speeding; (2) a question to the driver about the smell of marijuana did not fall beyond the permissible scope of the stop; and (3) the motion judge did not err in finding that the driver freely and voluntarily consented to the search of the vehicle. View "Commonwealth v. Buckley" on Justia Law

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A driver’s consent to allow law enforcement officers to search for narcotics or firearms “in the vehicle” does not authorize the officer to search under the hood of the vehicle and, as part of that search, to remove the vehicle’s air filter. The superior court in this case granted Defendant’s motion to suppress, concluding that the scope of Defendant’s consent for officers to search for narcotics or firearms "in the vehicle" was limited to a search for narcotics or firearms in the vehicle’s interior and did not include a search under the hood beneath the air filter. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the search exceeded the scope of Defendant’s consent, and therefore, the search of the air filter under the hood was unconstitutional. The court thus affirmed the motion judge’s order allowing Defendant’s motion to suppress the weapons found in the air filter and Defendant’s subsequent statements to the police related to his possession of those weapons. View "Commonwealth v. Ortiz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the trial judge’s denial of Defendant’s motion for a new trial on the grounds that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel during his criminal trial. Specifically, Defendant argued that his counsel provided ineffective assistance because counsel failed to furnish the judge with the expert testimony, scholarly articles, or treatises necessary to enable the judge to determine that the principles in Defendant’s proposed eyewitness identification instruction were generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. The trial judge found that counsel’s decision not to present expert testimony and other evidence was a tactical one that was not manifestly unreasonable. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding that the judge neither erred nor abused his discretion in denying Defendant’s motion for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Gomes" 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 deliberate premeditated and armed assault with intent to murder, affirmed the denial of Defendant’s motion for postconviction relief, and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce or set aside the verdict of murder in the first degree. The court held (1) Defendant’s constitutional right to a public trial was not violated by the trial judge’s order limiting courtroom entry only to attendees whose names were submitted and approved; (2) there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of joint venture; (3) the prosecutor did not commit misconduct in his closing argument; and (4) the trial judge did not err in instructing the jury about cooperating witnesses. View "Commonwealth v. Fernandes" on Justia Law