COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients
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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case discussing the required elements that the prosecution must establish before a judge or jury can return a conviction. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he lacked knowledge of the specifics of the weapon that subjected it to regulation. Instead, the court held that a defendant need only know that the weapon was a firearm “in the conventional sense of the word.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a group of friends were out for the night, stopping by several parties. As they arrived at a hotel after one of the parties, they met up with the defendant. After picking up the defendant, the group then went to another party. The defendant got out of the car, grabbed a weapon that belonged to one of the other occupants, and fired it twice into the air.

Police responded to the scene, but were unable to find the weapon of the bullets. They did, however, find two shell casings for a 9mm bullet. Police were also able to obtain surveillance video footage, showing a man raising an object into the air and then two flashes of light coming from the object. The defendant was arrested and charged with the unlawful possession of a firearm.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the country, the nation’s prisons are quickly becoming hotspots for the virus. Indeed, a recent news article documents the pervasiveness of COVID-19 in state prisons across the country. Massachusetts prisons are no exception. A local news outlet recently reported that more than 150 inmates and staff have contracted the coronavirus in the state’s jails and prisons.

Given this reality, many have raised concerns over the safety of those who are in custody. Since the beginning of the pandemic, civil rights organizations and defense attorneys have tried to get the courts to release as many incarcerated people as possible, with some success. Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down an opinion discussing how lower courts should handle petitions for release in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court first acknowledged the safety concerns surrounding the continued incarceration of individuals during the pandemic, noting that the “unprecedented and urgent conditions created by the global COVID19 pandemic necessitated judicial action to reduce the population of those held in custody.”

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Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that will have a significant impact on many Massachusetts criminal law cases. The opinion, Kansas v. Glover, presented the court with the question: whether a police officer can reasonably assume that the person who is operating a motor vehicle is that vehicle’s registered owner. The Court answered the question in the affirmative. The case is important because, under the Court’s new ruling, police officers can now pull over a vehicle for no reason other than the owner of that vehicle has an outstanding warrant.

The case arose when a deputy ran the license plate of a pick-up truck to find out that the registered owner’s driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy assumed that the person who was driving the car was the registered owner, and pulled over the vehicle. The deputy was correct, and the defendant was cited for driving on a revoked license.

The defendant argued that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the deputy was relying on a “hunch” when he assumed that the driver of a vehicle was also the vehicle’s registered owner. The defendant also argued that the fact that the registered owner’s license was revoked decreased the likelihood that the driver of the vehicle was the registered owner.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts homicide case discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that was obtained from a cell phone that was in his pocket when he was arrested. Ultimately, the court concluded that while police officers legally seized the phone, they conducted an illegal investigatory search of the phone when they used it for “investigative purposes.”

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested on suspicion of murder. On the day of his arrest, the defendant had a cell phone in his pocket. The defendant’s brother and father went to the police station to give statements to detectives. The first question the detective asked the defendant’s brother was whether he had a cell phone. The brother responded that the defendant had his phone.

The detective continued to question the brother about the phone, asking for the code to unlock it. The defendant’s brother provided the correct code, and the detective unlocked the phone. The detective then asked additional questions about the phone, including how the phone’s screen got cracked. The defendant’s brother also told detectives he got the phone new about a year before, he gave them the phone number, and told them that the defendant used the phone “all the time.” Detectives then asked the defendant’s brother for consent to search the phone, which was given. Detectives discovered a video of the defendant discussing his role in the murder.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a written opinion in a case involving a Massachusetts OUI arrest in which the defendant also had an open container of alcohol in the car. The case required the court to determine if the state’s prohibition on driving with an open container of alcohol constituted a criminal offense or if it was considered correctly a civil motor vehicle infraction. Ultimately, the court found that the open container statute was an “automobile law violation,” making it a civil motor vehicle infraction.

According to the court’s opinion, police pulled the defendant over under suspicion of driving under the influence. When police approached the defendant’s vehicle, they saw an open container of alcohol. Police charged the defendant with OUI and possessing an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. At trial, the jury found the defendant not guilty of OUI but guilty of the open container violation. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the open container violation was not a criminal offense, and that it should have been resolved through a ticket.

The fundamental question posed to the court was whether the open container statute defined a criminal offense or a traffic violation. The court’s framework for answering the question was fairly sophisticated. First, the court noted that a “civil motor vehicle infraction” is one involving an “automobile law violation” that cannot result in imprisonment. The court then acknowledged that the open container statute did not provide for the possibility of imprisonment. Thus, the court’s next step was to determine if an open container violation was properly considered an “automobile law violation.”

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case discussing the “intent” element that must be established by the prosecution to find someone guilty of a discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a public building. Ultimately, the court determined that even an accidental discharge of a firearm can be the basis for such a charge, affirming the defendant’s conviction.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant, who split his time between Maine and Massachusetts, owned a firearm. The defendant did not have a license in Massachusetts, but was eligible to own the gun in Maine, where no license is required. One day, the defendant had some friends over. One of the friends was interested in buying the gun from the defendant. The defendant took out the gun, showed it to his friend, and then went to put the gun back in the case. However, the defendant did not realize that there was a bullet in the chamber. When he pulled the trigger, which was necessary to do to disassemble the gun, it fired. The bullet went through his friend’s hand.

The defendant was charged and convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm, as well as with discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a public building. On appeal, the defendant argued that he could not be convicted of discharging the firearm, because he accidentally fired the gun. Thus, the court was tasked with determining whether the offense of discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a public building contained a requirement that the defendant intentionally fired a gun.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case involving the legality of an inventory search that was performed by the arresting officers. Ultimately, the court concluded that the inventory search was not permissible because there was a passenger in the car that could have driven the vehicle from the scene, and the officers’ failure to give the driver that option rendered the search illegal.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers noticed a car with a defective rear brake light. The officers ran the tags, and discovered that the owner of the vehicle, the defendant, had an outstanding warrant. The officers pulled over the car.

The defendant was driving. The police officers asked both the defendant and his passenger for their drivers’ licenses, at which point the officers learned that the passenger had a valid license, had no warrants, and was not a suspect in any outstanding crime. The passenger was cooperative and did not appear to be under the influence.

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Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case requiring the court to determine if the police officers legally stopped the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was armed and dangerous. As a result, they did not have the legal authority to conduct a pat frisk of the defendant or to search his vehicle.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers noticed the defendant’s vehicle had a cracked windshield and an expired registration sticker. The officers turned on their overhead lights and, after driving for a short while, the defendant pulled into a residential driveway and got out of the car. As the officers approached, the defendant looked into his vehicle a few times. The officers ordered the defendant to stay put, and patted him down, finding a knife. The officers then asked the defendant is he had any other weapons in the car, and he admitted that there was a firearm inside. The defendant was arrested and charged with various Massachusetts gun crimes. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the officers lacked reason to search him or his vehicle.

The court began its analysis by noting that the initial traffic stop was legal, as the defendant’s car was observed to have a cracked windshield and expired registration. The court also noted that the defendant voluntarily exited his vehicle, leaving the only question for the court to answer being whether the officers had legal justification to patfrisk the defendant and to search his car.

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One of the most common questions we get from our clients who have been arrested for a Massachusetts OUI offense is whether the police officers were allowed to take their blood without a warrant. The determination as to whether a police officer can take a motorist’s blood when they are under suspicion of driving while intoxicated is complex, and has recently been the focus of several U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Recently, a Massachusetts appellate court had occasion to weigh in on the issue in an operating under the influence (OUI) case involving a warrantless blood draw.

The facts of the case can be briefly summarized. The defendant was involved in a car accident. When police arrived, they noticed he smelled of alcohol and that there were several open containers of alcohol in the car. After being Mirandized, the defendant told police that he had been drinking and was “guilty.” Police transported the defendant to the hospital, where the officers read the defendant a pre-written statement indicating that they intended to take a “chemical test” to determine the defendant’s blood-alcohol content. Nothing was mentioned of a blood draw. The test revealed that there was alcohol in the defendant’s blood, and he was charged with OUI.

The defendant argued that the officers’ warrantless blood draw was taken in violation of his constitutional rights because he never explicitly consented to a blood draw. Consent is an exception to the warrant requirement, so when a defendant consents to a blood draw, there is no need for a warrant. However, the question as to whether a defendant’s consent is valid is complex.

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Recently, the state supreme court issued an opinion in a Boston drug crime case involving a large quantity of drugs that was seized after the police ordered the defendant out of his car. The case discusses the type of evidence that a police officer must have to order a motorist out of their car when the motorist is suspected of a crime.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers received an anonymous tip that a Volvo containing a large amount of narcotics would be present at a particular intersection in the Roxbury area of Boston. The police set up surveillance and watched as a pedestrian approached the vehicle. The pedestrian engaged in conversation with the driver, and the driver then reached down toward the floor of the passenger side of the car. The officers could not see if anything was exchanged between the men, but they thought that the interaction was consistent with an exchange.

The officers followed the Volvo as it pulled away, and they initiated a traffic stop based on their suspicions. When they approached the Volvo, the defendant was the sole occupant. The police officers claimed that the defendant was avoiding eye contact and breathing heavily. The officers ordered the defendant out of his car and, as the defendant was exiting the vehicle, noticed that there was a large wad of money in the compartment along the inside of the driver’s side door. The police frisked the defendant, finding nothing, and then searched the vehicle, finding a large amount of cocaine.

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