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 felony-murder in the first degree and the denial of his motion for a new trial, holding that there was no error that would necessitate a new trial, and there was no reason for the Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to order a new trial or to reduce the conviction to a lesser degree of guilt.On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that his felony-murder conviction must be reversed because his accomplice was killed during a struggle with the intended robbery victim, and therefore, the theory of felony-murder was inapplicable. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the felony-murder rule was applicable; (2) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's convictions; and (3) Defendant's remaining assignments of error were without merit. View "Commonwealth v. Duke" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that "tower dumps" are not per se unconstitutional and that investigators may use tower dumps so long as they comply with the warrant requirements of article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.The Commonwealth obtained search warrants for seven different "tower dumps," a law enforcement tool that provides investigators with the cell site location information for all devices that connected to specific cell towers during a particular time frame, corresponding to the locations of several crimes. Defendant was ultimately charged with six robberies and a homicide. Defendant moved to suppress all evidence obtained from the tower dumps as the fruit of an unconstitutional search. The superior court judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding (1) investigators may use tower dumps so long as they comply with the warrant requirements of article 14; (2) the second of the two warrants in this case was supported by probable cause and therefore did not offend the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; but (3) the first warrant was not supported by probable cause, and any evidence obtained from it must be suppressed. View "Commonwealth v. Perry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order of the superior court judge allowing the forfeiture in this case, holding that firearms found to be improperly secured according to the requirements of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, 131L are not subject to forfeiture under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 3(b), which regulates the disposal of certain firearms seized during the execution of a search warrant.Police obtained a search warrant to search Defendant's home for a firearm allegedly used in an altercation. During the search, officers found that some of Defendant's more than 240 firearms appeared to be improperly secured. Defendant was subsequently indicted on twenty-seven counts of improperly securing a firearm and convicted on twelve counts. Defendant later moved for the return of all twenty-seven of the seized firearms. A superior court judge ordered the return of the firearms seized during during the execution of the search warrant with the exception of the twelve that had been found to have been improperly secured, which the judge ordered be forfeited and destroyed. The Court of Appeals vacated the order below, holding that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, 129D applies only to firearms "deliver[ed] or surrender[ed]," not to those seized during a lawful search. View "Commonwealth v. Fleury" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's conviction of carrying a firearm without a license, holding that the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress.At issue was whether police officers may conduct a traffic stop on the basis of a traffic violation after having resolved the violation at a prior encounter, then having allowed the vehicle to leave, without any other traffic violation taking place. Defendant challenged the constitutionality of the traffic stop in this case under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to suppress and vacated his conviction, holding (1) police may not conduct a traffic stop on the basis of a traffic violation after having previously addressed the violation and having resolved the issue in a separate, discrete encounter; and (2) in the instant case, police lacked the authority to conduct the second traffic stop, and therefore, the stop was unreasonable under article 14. View "Commonwealth v. Daveiga" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of possessing a firearm without a license and possessing a large capacity feeding device, holding that Defendant's arguments on appeal were without merit.On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to suppress the firearm and the attached large capacity feeding device as the fruits of a warrantless search and that there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the motion judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress; and (2) there was sufficient evidence that Defendant possessed the firearm in question. View "Commonwealth v. DeJesus" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court allowing Defendant's second motion for a new trial based on constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, holding that Defendant's trial counsel did not provide ineffective assistance.After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree and unlawful possession of a firearm. The Supreme Court remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on the sole issue of trial counsel's performance. Before an evidentiary hearing was held on remand, Defendant's appellate counsel filed a second motion for a new trial on the ground that trial counsel had provided ineffective assistance. The trial court allowed the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that it was an abuse of discretion to hold that trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. View "Commonwealth v. Ng" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the ruling of the superior court entering declaratory judgment in favor of the city council of Springfield and held that the city council may reorganize the Springfield police department based on the plain language of the relevant statutes and city ordinances.At issue was whether the city council had the authority to reorganize the police department to be headed by a five-person board of police commissioners rather than a single commission under the provisions of the Springfield city charter passed in accordance with Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 43, 46-55. After the mayor refused to implement the city council's ordinance restructuring the police department the city council brought this action. The court entered a judgment declaring that the mayor must appoint qualified individuals to serve on the board. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the ordinance was clearly within the scope of the city council's power to reorganize municipal departments; and (2) there was no separation of powers problem in this case. View "City Council of Springfield v. Mayor of Springfield" 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 extreme atrocity or cruelty for the killing of his wife, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the prosecutor did not improperly exercise a peremptory challenge to strike a male juror; (2) the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in connection with certain evidentiary decisions; (3) the prosecutor's challenged statements in his closing argument did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (4) the jury instruction on mental impairment was sufficient; (5) the denial of Defendant's motion for a new trial did not constitute an abuse of discretion; and (6) this Court declines to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws 278, 33E, to order a new trial or a reduction in the verdict. View "Commonwealth v. Huang" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained after surveillance was conducted at Defendant's apartment building via a hidden video camera placed on a nearby public utility pole, holding that although the pole camera surveillance constituted a warrantless search under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, it was nevertheless constitutional.Defendant was indicted on child pornography charges. After the surveillance at issue in this case took place but before the superior court decided Defendant's motion to suppress, Commonwealth v. Mora, 485 Mass. 360 (2020) was decided. In Mora, the Supreme Judicial Court decided that pole camera surveillance could, under certain circumstances, constitute a search requiring a warrant. After the motion to suppress in this case was decided, Defendant brought an interlocutory appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order denying Defendant's motion to suppress, holding (1) the pole camera surveillance constituted a search; but (2) probable cause existed to conduct the pole camera surveillance prior to the time the search began. View "Commonwealth v. Comenzo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below.Defendant was sentenced on the murder conviction to a term of life in State prison, to be served after his sentence for assault and battery. On appeal, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that there was no reversible error in the trial proceedings and that there was no reason for this Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to grant a new trial or to reduce or set aside the verdict of murder in the first degree. View "Commonwealth v. Denson" on Justia Law