Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty. The court held (1) while not overwhelming, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient as a matter of law to support Defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree, and therefore, there was no error in the judge’s denial of Defendant’s motion for a required finding; but (2) the trial judge’s failure to require an explanation of the prosecutor’s peremptory challenge of a prospective juror, who was African-American, was error, and because the error constituted structural error for which prejudice is presumed, the case must be remanded to the superior court for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Once a police officer has completed the investigation of a defendant’s civil traffic violations and the facts do not give rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the officer is required to permit the defendant to drive away. Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from the trunk of his vehicle, arguing that state police troopers and local police officers unreasonably detained him beyond the time required to effectuate a traffic stop. A superior court denied the motion to suppress. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that because the officer’s investigation of civil traffic violations did not give rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the officer did not have a legitimate basis to justify his investigation of criminal drug activity, and Defendant should have been allowed to drive away. View "Commonwealth v. Cordero" on Justia Law

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For reasons set forth in its decision issued today in Van Arsdale v. Van Arsdale, 477 Mass. __ (2017), the Supreme Judicial Court held that the durational limits of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 are constitutional. In 2014, Husband sought to modify his alimony obligation established in an alimony agreement, claiming a material change of circumstances. The judge agreed with Husband that modification was warranted. The judge also applied the Act’s durational limits to the agreement and ordered that Husband’s alimony obligation would terminate in 2020. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the trial judge did not abuse her discretion concluding that Wife failed to prove that deviation beyond the Act’s duration limits was required in the interests of justice. View "Popp v. Popp" on Justia Law

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The application of the durational limits of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 to certain alimony agreements that predate the Act is not unconstitutionally retroactive. Here, William Van Arsdale filed a complaint for modification in 2015 seeking to terminate his alimony obligation. The probate and family court terminated William’s obligation to pay Susan Van Arsdale alimony because the Act’s relevant durational limit had been exceeded and Susan had not shown that deviation from them was necessary. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the application of the Act’s duration limits to the alimony agreement between William and Susan was not unconstitutionally retroactive; and (2) the probate and family court judge did not abuse her discretion when she declined to deviate from the durational limits in this case. View "Van Arsdale v. Van Arsdale" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held in this case that the principles of double jeopardy bar the imposition of a consecutive sentence of eight years’ probation, imposed in 2015 by a judge who was not the plea judge, where Defendant originally had been sentenced in 2005 to an eight-year term of probation concurrent with his ten-year prison sentence. Specifically, Defendant was not resentenced to a term of consecutive probation when the original sentencing judge vacated the community parole supervision for life portion of his sentence. The court remanded the matter to the superior court for entry of an order dismissing the Commonwealth’s motion to correct and clarify the sentence as moot on the ground that Defendant’s sentence had been completed before the motion was filed. View "Commonwealth v. Pacheco" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Defendants owned abutting parcels of property. After several years of Defendants opposing Plaintiff’s redevelopment plans, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging abuse of process and a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 11. Defendants filed a special motion to dismiss pursuant to the “anti-SLAPP statute,” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H. A superior court judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court (1) affirmed the denial of Defendants’ special motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiff’s claim under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 11; and (2) vacated the denial of the special motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiff’s abuse of process claim, holding that Defendants met their threshold burden under the anti-SLAPP statute of showing that this claim was solely based on Defendants’ petitioning activity. Given that Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the entirety of Defendants’ petitioning activities lack a reasonable basis in fact or law, it may attempt upon remand to make the showing outlined in Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hospital, Inc., 477 Mass. , (2017), which augments the framework in Duracraft Corp. v. Holmes Products Corp., 427 Mass. 156 (1998). View "477 Harrison Ave., LLC v. JACE Boston, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court took this opportunity to augment the framework set forth in Duracraft v. Holmes Products Corp., 427 Mass. 156 (1998), regarding anti-SLAPP suits. Plaintiffs, nine registered nurses who previously worked in a hospital's adolescent psychiatric unit, fired the hospital and its then-president, alleging defamation based on the president’s statements - both to hospital employees and to the Boston Globe - regarding the nurses’ culpability for the incidents that took place at the unit. Defendants filed a special motion to dismiss pursuant to the “anti-SLAPP statute,” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H. The superior court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the denial of Defendants’ special motion to dismiss as to the president’s statements to the Boston Globe and otherwise affirmed, holding that a portion of Plaintiffs’ defamation claim was based solely on Defendants’ petitioning activity. Therefore, Defendants satisfied in part their threshold burden under Duracraft. However, because the statute, as construed under current case law, remains at odds with legislative intent and raises constitutional concerns, the court broadened the construction of the statutory term “based on.” The court remanded the matter to the superior court where the burden will shift to Plaintiffs to make a showing adequate to defeat the special motion to dismiss. View "Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hospital, Inc." 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 declined to exercise its extraordinary power under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the degree of guilt or to order a new trial. The Court held (1) any error committed by trial counsel during trial did not alter the jury’s verdict, and therefore, Defendant received constitutionally effective assistance of counsel; and (2) testimony elicited from the medical examiner did not violate Defendant’s right of confrontation pursuant to the Sixth Amendment. View "Commonwealth v. Montrond" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court clarified the application of the Florida v. Jardines warrant requirement to a search in a multifamily home. The Court held (1) the side yard of Defendant’s multifamily home in this case was a “constitutionally protected area," and law enforcement’s intrusion into that area to search for a weapon implicated the constitutional warrant requirement; and (2) the superior court properly allowed Defendants’ motions to suppress the loaded sawed-off shotgun found under the porch because the warrantless intrusion here was an unlawful physical intrusion into the curtilage of the residence, therefore violating the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. View "Commonwealth v. Leslie" on Justia Law

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A jury found Earl T. Fulgiam and Michael T. Corbin guilty as joint venturers of murder in the first degree of Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Billie Marie Kee. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the convictions and declined to grant relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding (1) the trial court did not err in admitting certain cellular telephone records; (2) the admission of fingerprint cards attributed to Defendants did not violate Defendants’ right to confront witnesses against them; (3) the trial judge did not err in admitting a fingerprint analyst’s testimony related to the fingerprint analysis; and (4) the prosecutor permissibly inferred that a “team” of men committed the murders. View "Commonwealth v. Fulgiam" on Justia Law