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, holding that Defendant failed to demonstrate that his trial counsel was ineffective and that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial.In this appeal, which the Supreme Court consolidated with the denial of Defendant's motion for a new trial, Defendant argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for not moving to suppress his optical records and his cell site location information. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's trial counsel provided effective assistance; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial; and (3) there was no reason to vacate Defendant's conviction or to order a new trial pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Gosselin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of two counts of murder and other crimes, holding that any error committed during the proceedings below was not prejudicial.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial judge's admission of a DNA expert's testimony regarding a "nonexclusion" result; (2) the trial judge did not err in admitting into evidence charts depicting DNA test results; (3) the prosecutor erred in misstating certain evidence, but the error was not prejudicial; (4) the judge's jury instruction that prior inconsistent statements may not be considered substantively was erroneous, but the error did not prejudice Defendant as to require a new trial; (5) the trial judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial on the grounds that a purported courtroom closure during voir dire was unconstitutional; and (6) following plenary review of the record pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, § 33E, there was no basis for reducing Defendant's sentence on the murder conviction or ordering a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Lester" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's convictions for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (OUI) causing serious bodily injury and misleading an investigator, holding that errors at trial required that Defendant's convictions be vacated and the matter remanded for a retrial.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the plain language of the relevant statutes makes clear that blood alcohol level testing shall not be done absent consent, and any nonconsensual testing done at the police's direction is inadmissible; (2) because Defendant's blood draw was performed without Defendant's actual consent, the blood draw was impermissible and the blood alcohol content test results were improperly admitted at trial, and the tainted evidence was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) the trial judge erred by failing to make an independent determination regarding the voluntariness of Defendant's statements and by failing to give a humane practice instruction to the jury, and the error created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Bohigian" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below nor reason to exercise the Court's authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the Commonwealth did not violate Defendant's due process rights by omitting evidence that helped Defendant and that countered the prosecutor's theory of the case; (2) error occurred when a lay witness testified that he had previously referred to Defendant as the "guy...who killed my cousin" but the inadmissible evidence did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (3) the prosecutor improperly urged the jury to draw an inference of guilt against Defendant due to his courtroom behavior, but the error did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (4) there was no error in the jury instructions regarding circumstantial evidence; (5) Defendant's trial counsel did not provide ineffective assistance; and (6) the motion judges did not err in denying the defendant's motions for posttrial discovery. View "Commonwealth v. Moffat" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the juvenile court judge denying a juvenile's motion for relief from sex offender registration, holding that the record below was inadequate for the Court to decide the constitutional issue presented by the juvenile in this case.After the juvenile court judge denied the juvenile's motion to be relieved from his obligation to register as a sex offender the juvenile filed a petition seeking relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, arguing that requiring juveniles to register violates due process and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment based on advances in the understanding of the adolescent brain. The Supreme Judicial Court denied relief, holding (1) based on the record, the judge's determination that the juvenile should not be relieved of the obligation to register as a sex offender did not lie outside the bounds of reasonable alternatives; and (2) because of the absence of expert testimony and the failure to properly introduce the scientific studies cited in the judge's written findings, the Court did not have the necessary record to reach the constitutional issue. View "Ernest E. v. Commonwealth" 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 deliberate premeditation and an attempt to suborn perjury and declined to exercise its extraordinary authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33 E to order a new trial or to reduce the degree of guilt, holding that no prejudicial error occurred in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's conviction; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress cell site location data and admitting that data at trial; (3) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in allowing into evidence out-of-court statements by Defendant's alleged coventurer and in excluding other evidence concerning that coventurer; (4) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by allowing the charges against Defendant to be joined for trial; (5) the trial judge did not commit prejudicial error by not giving "missing witness" and Bowden instructions; and (6) improprieties in the prosecutor's closing argument did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. In addition, the Supreme Judicial Court discerned no reason to order a new trial or to reduce the degree of guilt under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Wilkerson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice of the Court denying Petitioner's petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief.Petitioner was indicted on several counts of rape and one count of strangulation or suffocation. Petitioner was committed for observation to Bridgewater State Hospital for a determination whether he was competent to stand trial. Petitioner was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to the hospital pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 16. Petitioner, who remains in the hospital, filed a Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition claiming, among other things, that his constitutional rights had been violated. The single justice denied the petition without a hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner had an adequate alternative remedy and that his claims did not present a situation warranting extraordinary superintendence relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. View "Ardaneh v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree and unlawful possession of a firearm, holding that no error occurred during the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) one of the Commonwealth's key witnesses did not provide improper lay testimony on the ultimate issue of Defendant's guilt; (2) Defendant's argument that a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice occurred because the judge did not provide a self-defense instruction sua sponte was without merit; (3) trial counsel did not provide ineffective assistance for strategically deciding against requesting a self-defense instruction; and (4) there was no basis to set aside the verdict of murder in the first degree or to order a new trial pursuant to the Court's extraordinary power under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Waller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of murder in the first degree by deliberate premeditation and assault with intent to murder, holding that no error occurred in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the motion judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress because (a) although Defendant unambiguously invoked his right to counsel, he voluntarily reinitiated contact with detectives, and (b) Defendant's waiver of his Miranda rights was intelligent, knowing, and voluntary; (2) factually inconsistent verdicts were no grounds to set aside Defendant's convictions of murder in the first degree and assault with the intent to murder because ample evidence supported both convictions; and (3) the verdict of murder in the first degree was consonant with justice, and there was no basis to set aside the verdict or order a new trial pursuant to the Court's extraordinary power under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. View "Commonwealth v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree on the theory of deliberate premeditation, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.After Defendant was convicted of murder, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the conviction due to an error in the jury instructions. Following a retrial, Defendant was again convicted of murder. Defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial judge's decision to allow a witness to avoid testifying at the second trial by invoking the privilege against self-incrimination and in admitting the witness's voir dire testimony, in lieu of live testimony at the second trial, did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial on the ground that he suffered from a mental disease or defect at the time of the shooting; (3) this Court again declines to extend its holding in Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, 466 Mass. 655 (2013), to individuals over the age of eighteen; and (4) Defendant's arguments made pursuant to Commonwealth v. Moffett, 383 Mass. 201, 208-209 (1981) were unavailing. View "Commonwealth v. Johnson" on Justia Law