Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the Commonwealth's appeal from the trial court's allowance of Defendant's motion filed under Mass. R. Crim. P. 25(a), holding that the trial judge erred in reserving decision on Defendant's Rule 25(a) motion and that the error violated Defendant's right to due process and permeated the remainder of the trial. Defendant was charged with murder in the first degree. At the close of the Commonwealth's case Defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty pursuant to Rule 25(a). The judge reserved decision and submitted the case to the jury. The jury found Defendant guilty of murder in the second degree. Defendant subsequently renewed his motion under Rule 25(a). The judge allowed the motion, nunc pro tunc, to the close of the Commonwealth's case. The Commonwealth petitioned for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. The Supreme Judicial Court denied relief, holding (1) in allowing the motion for a required finding nunc pro tunc after the jury returned their verdict the judge deprived the Commonwealth of its right to appeal from a postverdict acquittal; but (2) because the initial error in reserving decision on the motion implicated Defendant's constitutional rights and infected the remainder of the trial, the Commonwealth could not appeal. View "Commonwealth v. Yasin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court judge allowing Defendant's motion to suppress all evidence related to an illegal seizure on the ground that the stop of his motor vehicle was not reasonable, holding that the police officer's stop of Defendant's motor vehicle for failing to drive entirely within a marked traffic lane was reasonable and, therefore, constitutional. Defendant was charged with a marked lanes violation in accordance with Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 89, 4A and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The judge allowed Defendant's motion to suppress, ruling that Defendant had not violated section 4A, and therefore, the stop of his motor vehicle was not reasonable. The Supreme Court vacated the judge's order, holding that Defendant violated section 4A when he crossed the right-side fog line one time for two or three seconds, and therefore, the ensuing traffic stop was reasonable. View "Commonwealth v. Larose" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's conviction of involuntary manslaughter but affirmed Defendant's conviction of distribution of heroin, holding that the Commonwealth did not introduce evidence showing that Defendant knew or should have known that his conduct created a high degree of likelihood of substantial harm. Defendant had provided a college student with the heroin that caused the student's death. Defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and distribution of heroin. Defendant appealed, arguing, inter alia, that the judge erred in denying his request to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of possession of heroin for personal use because the student asked Defendant to purchase heroin for him and Defendant did not profit from the sale. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) under the circumstances of this case, the judge did not err in denying Defendant's request for a lesser included jury instruction on simple possession; but (2) there was insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Defendant's conduct created a high degree of likelihood that the student would suffer substantial harm for his use of the heroin. View "Commonwealth v. Carrillo" 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 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