Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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 and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to grant a new trial or to reduce or set aside the verdict, holding that none of Defendant's allegations of error warranted reversal. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury and in admitting conversations recorded while Defendant was in pretrial detention. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the jury instructions did not prejudice Defendant; and (2) there was no violation of Defendant's constitutional rights in the admission of the recorded conversations. View "Commonwealth v. Odgren" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part the superior court's order denying in part and affirming in part Defendant's motions to suppress, holding that the superior court erred in denying Defendant's motions to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his cellular telephone and the cell site location information (CSLI). Police officers asked a Spanish-speaking officer untrained in interpretation to translate Miranda warnings and an interrogation into Spanish. Defendant subsequently waived his rights and spoke with police. Defendant also gave the officers permission to search his telephone. Officers used that information to obtain a warrant for the CSLI on Defendant's phone. Defendant filed several motions to suppress. The superior court allowed the motions with respect to the custodial statements but denied them in all other respects. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the identifications did not require suppression; (2) the translation of the Miranda warnings into Spanish was inadequate to apprise Defendant of his rights; (3) because the search of Defendant's cellular telephone arose from the statements he made following the incomplete Miranda warnings, the evidence obtained as a result must be suppressed; and (4) the affidavit in support of the search warrant for the CSLI did not establish probable cause to access the CLSI for Defendant's device. View "Commonwealth v. Vasquez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the superior court's denial of Defendant's motion seeking a refund of fees associated with his vacated convictions, holding that due process principles required a refund of a drug analysis fee but did not require a refund of other fees. Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of distribution of cocaine. Defendant later sought a new trial due to the misconduct of Sonja Farak, a chemist who analyzed the substances seized in Defendant's case. The indictments were subsequently dismissed with prejudice on the Commonwealth's motion. Thereafter, Defendant filed a motion seeking a refund of fees associated with the vacated convictions, including the drug analysis fee and fees Defendant incurrent on an account he was obligated to maintain while he was incarcerated. The superior court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order to the extent that the order denied a refund of the drug analysis fee and affirmed the order in all other respects, holding that Defendant was entitled to a refund of a drug analysis fee but that neither statute nor due process required that fees Defendant incurred on his inmate account be refunded. View "Commonwealth v. Watt" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the jury's verdict convicting Defendant of murder in the first degree, holding that the motion judge abused his discretion in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial because defense counsel's failure to request a voluntary manslaughter instruction created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. In his motion for a new trial, Defendant contended that his trial counsel's performance was deficient because counsel failed to request a voluntary manslaughter jury instruction based on reasonable provocation. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the matter to the superior court for a new trial, holding that the motion judge abused his discretion in determining that trial counsel's decision not to request a voluntary manslaughter instruction was a reasonable tactical choice. View "Commonwealth v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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In this matter concerning the search of a warehouse pursuant to a warrant that was issued in part based on the odor of unburnt marijuana the Supreme Judicial Court remanded this matter to the district court for further proceedings, holding that the warrant affidavit supported a finding of probable cause to search the commercial building for evidence of illegal marijuana cultivation. Defendant filed a motion to suppress due to a lack of probable cause to issue the warrant. Before the district court judge had issued a decision on the motion, the parties requested that the judge report a question to the appeals court. The judge allowed the request and reported the question. The Supreme Judicial Court transferred the appeal to this Court and concluded that the search warrant affidavit established probable cause to search the warehouse for evidence of marijuana cultivation. View "Commonwealth v. Long" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's convictions, holding that the motion judge committed reversible error in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search and seizure of a motor vehicle in which he was a passenger and in denying Defendant's postconviction motion for discovery of wiretap recordings of his conversations with a confidential informant. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the convictions and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) Defendant's motion to suppress should have been granted because Defendant was subjected to an illegal seizure, and the evidence obtained from the subsequently impoundment and search of the vehicle was the direct result of the illegal seizure, and the error was not harmless; (2) the trial judge did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant's prior bad acts; and (3) the motion judge properly denied Defendant's postconviction motion for a new trial but erred in denying the motion for discovery. View "Commonwealth v. Tavares" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated three of the indictments in this case for a new trial, holding that the trial judge improperly failed to include certain language from paragraph three of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, 105(b), in the instruction to the jury on the charges of secretly videotaping children but that paragraph three is not unconstitutionally vague. Defendant was convicted on ten indictments charging him with secreting videotaping unsuspecting individual adults who were nude or partially nude, in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, 105(b), paragraph one. Defendant was also convicted on five indictments charging violation of paragraph three of the statute for secretly videotaping children during the same incident. In a posttrial decision, the trial judge declared that paragraph three of the statute was unconstitutionally vague and vacated Defendant's convictions of videotaping the children. The Supreme Court remanded for a new trial three of the five convictions for videotaping the children, holding (1) the proper unit of prosecution under section 105(b), first paragraph, is based on the individual victims; and (2) section 105(b), third paragraph, is not unconstitutionally vague, but the trial judge improperly instructed the jury on these charges. View "Commonwealth v. Wassilie" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and the order denying his motion for a new trial and further declined to reduce the verdict of murder in the first degree to a lesser degree of guilt or to set aside the convictions under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation, extreme atrocity or cruelty, and felony-murder. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and the order denying his motion for a new trial, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress his statements to police; (2) the trial judge did not err by declining to give a humane practice instruction sua sponte or by declining to provide the jury with complete instructions on joint venture; (3) the trial judge did not err in excluding certain hearsay evidence; and (4) the judge did not err in denying Defendant an evidentiary hearing on his motion for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Amaral" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated and set aside Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree, armed assault with intent to murder, and firearm offenses, holding that four trial errors required that the verdicts be vacated and set aside and this matter remanded to the superior court for a new trial. Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial court erred in admitting a coventurer's statements against Defendant under the joint venture exemption to the hearsay rule, and admission of the statements was barred by the Sixth Amendment; (2) the trial court erred in admitting the opinion of the Commonwealth's gang expert, and the error was prejudicial; (3) the trial court erred in allowing police witnesses to give their opinions as to the identity of individuals depicted in surveillance footage; and (4) the prosecutor engaged in impermissible argument during closing, and a new trial was required. View "Commonwealth v. Wardsworth" 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, 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