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In a recent decision from a court in Massachusetts, a lower court’s ruling that incriminating evidence should be suppressed was reversed. Originally, a lower court had determined that because a state trooper did not have sufficient reason to pull over the defendant on the highway, the drugs found in the defendant’s car should not be used against him in court. The higher court disagreed, saying the trooper did, in fact, have reason to pull the defendant over in the first place. It was thus acceptable for the State to use the incriminating evidence against the defendant at trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving on the highway when a state police trooper conducted a random check on the defendant’s vehicle to find out if it was properly registered. As a result, the trooper learned that the vehicle had failed its most recent inspection approximately two weeks earlier.

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as provisions in the Massachusetts Constitution, prevent law enforcement officers from performing a search of a person or their home without probable cause or a warrant. If a person consents to a search, this constitutional requirement may be waived. However, consent alone is not always sufficient to prevent an evidentiary challenge to the admission of evidence obtained by a warrantless search. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently ruled on an appeal by a defendant who challenged the constitutionality of a search of an apartment where he had been staying.

According to the facts discussed in the judicial opinion, the defendant was the subject of a drug trafficking investigation and was also suspected of using false identities to conceal his alleged drug trafficking behavior. Law enforcement officers obtained search warrants for four apartments that the defendant was suspected of using in furtherance of criminal activity. While searching one of the apartments, officers found a key that they were able to track to another apartment that was leased by an alias of the defendant. Officers did not have a warrant to search this apartment. Police went to the apartment and used the key to open the door, encountering the alleged girlfriend of the defendant. After officers threatened the apartment’s occupant with arrest and other consequences if she failed to consent to a search, she consented to a search, where drugs and evidence of the defendant using false identities was found.

The defendant was arrested based on the evidence found in the apartment, and charged with drug crimes as well as using false identities. Before trial, the defendant asked the court to suppress the evidence that was found at the apartment, arguing that law enforcement lacked a warrant or probable cause to enter the apartment and that the consent given by the defendant’s girlfriend was invalid, as it was coerced. The trial judge denied the defendant’s motions, resulting in an interlocutory appeal to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

The scandal surrounding a chemist’s misconduct who worked at the Massachusetts State Crime Lab has had far-reaching consequences for thousands of Massachusetts defendants since it broke. After state chemist Annie Dookan pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence in 2013, defendants whose alleged drugs were tested by Ms. Dookan were entitled to have their convictions vacated. Since 2013, over 10,000 drug convictions have been vacated, and most defendants were not retried for their crimes. Defendants who were convicted of multiple crimes as part of one case however are required to fight harder to have all their convictions overturned. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard a case in which a defendant sought to withdraw guilty pleas from several non-drug-related crimes that were connected to a drug charge that was vacated based on Ms. Dookan’s misconduct.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant in the recently decided appeal was charged with several crimes after he was suspected of committing an armed robbery. In addition to robbery and gun charges, he was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to several charges, including both violent and drug offenses, and was sentenced to 3-5 years in state prison. Based on a broad ruling by the Suffolk County Court in 2017, the drug portions of his conviction were vacated, however, this did not benefit the defendant in any tangible way because the sentences for each of his convictions ran concurrently.

The defendant sought to withdraw his guilty pleas to the violent crimes, arguing that the plea agreement he made was based upon the strong drug evidence against him, and had he known that the drug evidence was tainted, he would have taken the other charges to trial. The trial judge denied the defendant’s request, finding that the gun charges against him were supported by strong evidence and that he would have accepted the plea offer even if the drug charges were thrown out.

Juveniles who commit or are accused of criminal conduct are often victims of a difficult and unsupported life, leading them into a criminal lifestyle. In Massachusetts, juvenile criminal law is not designed merely to punish criminal conduct but to address the underlying factors that led juveniles into a criminal lifestyle. Because of this, juveniles accused of crimes are not to be treated as criminals but as children in need of assistance and support. Along with this assumption comes legal protections that prevent juveniles from falling deeper into the criminal justice system.

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in a juvenile criminal case that demonstrated the strength of the protections that juveniles are entitled to in the state when they are accused of committing crimes. In the recently decided case, the defendant was a juvenile when he was stopped by police for allegedly possessing a stolen vehicle. When police started questioning the juvenile, he gave them an inaccurate name and refused to say his date of birth. Ultimately he confessed to stealing the car. Once the arresting officer ascertained his actual name and date of birth, questioning ceased, and the minor was given a citation and released.

At a delinquency action for the car theft, the minor sought to suppress his confession and other statements to police because he was not given the opportunity guaranteed to juveniles to have an interested adult present during his questioning. The prosecution argued that the minor essentially waived that right by giving false information to the officer and refusing to tell him his date of birth, and the officer had no way of knowing he was a minor. The motion judge agreed with the prosecution, and the defendant was ultimately found to have committed the crime and adjudicated as delinquent.

In a recent opinion from a Massachusetts court involving a motor vehicle stop, the defendants’ request for evidence to be suppressed was denied. The defendants were found guilty of possession with intent to distribute class A substance as well as conspiracy to violate a drug law. They appealed, arguing the police officer’s stop of their vehicle was illegal. The appellate court denied the appeal because it found that there were no legal issues with the officer’s conduct during the motor vehicle stop.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, in May 2015, a police officer in Massachusetts observed a black Jeep Cherokee speeding at approximately 80 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour speed zone. Once the officer saw that the car was drifting in and out of its lane, he put on his blue lights and signaled for the vehicle to stop. While he was following the vehicle and waiting for the car to pull over, the officer saw the front passenger bend down completely out of sight. The vehicle did not pull over until the passenger sat back up.

The two defendants were the driver and passenger of the vehicle. The officer noticed that the defendants were shaking and avoiding eye contact, as well as that their pupils were constricted. The officer then ordered the defendants out of the vehicle. He searched the defendants and their car, finding a white substance that the defendants identified as heroin.

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Homicide trials, especially those that appear to be gang-related, can garner a large amount of publicity. This exposure can place a lot of pressure on prosecutors to “win” a conviction and look good in the public eye. Although trials are not meant to be a spectacle purposed to make prosecutors look effective and tough on crime, this is the reality of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard an appeal by two defendants that challenged their convictions for gang-related second-degree murder.

The defendants in the recently decided case were charged with conspiring to shoot and kill a coworker. The victim was a member of a known gang, and the defendants were alleged to be members of a rival gang. Before the shooting, the defendants communicated by text message that the victim would be in a certain place at a certain time, and the defendants allegedly planned to meet each other at that place and intimidate or assault the victim. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, a man later identified as one of the defendants traveled by train to the area the victim was working, shot him in the head and fled the scene. After a chase, the shooter was apprehended and later arrested and charged with murder. The second defendant was later arrested and charged based on the text message communications between him and the other defendant, allegedly planning the murder.

Both defendants were charged with first-degree murder for the crime.

Massachusetts police departments and prosecutors regularly rely on exceptions to the general rule requiring a warrant to enter the home of a suspect in order to collect evidence or make an arrest. As courts have carved out exceptions to the warrant requirement, police eagerly use them to make their jobs easier, often in questionable ways. In recent years, police have used what is commonly called the “hot pursuit” exception to enter the home of a fleeing suspect to gather evidence and make an arrest. The United States Supreme Court recently released a decision that will limit law enforcement’s ability to enter the home of a fleeing suspect who has not committed a felony.

The defendant in the recently decided case was seen by a police officer playing loud music and honking his horn repeatedly while driving on a public road. The officer attempted to stop the defendant for alleged motor vehicle infractions and signaled him to pull over. The defendant apparently ignored the police lights and drove a short distance to his garage where he entered the garage and got out of his car. The officer followed the defendant into the garage without obtaining a search or arrest warrant, seeking to cite him for the misdemeanor charge of failing to comply with a police signal. After interacting with the defendant, the officer claimed to notice signs of intoxication. The defendant submitted to a chemical test and was found to have a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit. He was charged with a DUI.

The defendant challenged his arrest before trial. The defendant argued that the officer’s entry into his home without a warrant was a violation of his 4th and 14th amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizure. The trial court rejected the defendant’s motion, finding that the officer was in “hot pursuit” of the defendant and he was entitled to enter his home without a warrant because the pursuit was an exigent circumstance. The defendant was ultimately convicted of the DUI charge and appealed the case to the California Court of Appeals. The California Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s appeal, finding that pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect was always an exigent circumstance that justified warrantless entry, and the California Supreme Court declined to hear a further appeal.

When pursuing criminal prosecutions, the government is required to disclose evidence in their possession or control that could clear the defendant from guilt. This obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence to a defendant or their lawyer is to ensure fairness in our justice system. Prosecutors are supposed to seek the truth, not simply a conviction. If legitimate evidence exists in a prosecution or police file that helps a defendant, intentional failure by the prosecution to disclose that evidence is unacceptable, as it diminishes public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in a case that centers around a dispute between prosecutors and defense counsel surrounding the breadth of the government’s obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence.

The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with a drug crime after substances were allegedly found on his person during a search. The substances were processed at a lab contracted by the state to determine their composition and were found to contain illegal drugs. After being charged with the drug crime, the defendant retained an attorney who discovered that a chemist employed by the drug testing laboratory had been credibly accused of tampering with drug evidence in other cases. The defense attorney demanded that the prosecution review the facts related to the chemist’s performance and disclose any potentially exculpatory evidence that was found. The prosecutor partially complied with the defendant’s request, turning over 140,000+ hard copy pages of investigative reports and documents related to the chemist and the laboratory. The prosecutor claimed that their office has an “open file” policy and that defendants were entitled to search through the files to find any exculpatory evidence themselves.

Jurisdictions across the country, including in Massachusetts, have relied on legal loopholes referred to as implied consent laws to allow law enforcement officers to obtain a blood-alcohol test from a suspect without a warrant. Implied consent laws generally function as a part of the motor vehicle licensing code and have been used to allow officers to assume that a licensed motorist has consented to a blood alcohol test simply being licensed to drive in the state. The Court of Appeals of Massachusetts recently heard a challenge to this law. The court considered new rulings by the United States Supreme Court and reversed a defendant’s conviction for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (OUI).

The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with an OUI offense after officers responded to the scene of an accident where the defendant had crashed his vehicle into a utility pole. The defendant was injured in the accident, and police were initially unable to obtain his consent for a blood draw as he was not fully conscious and coherent at the scene of the accident. After the defendant’s demeanor had changed and he was able to comprehend the officer’s questions at the hospital, he was provided a form explaining the implied consent laws in Massachusetts, and he was instructed to sign the form, after which blood was taken from him. The blood sample indicated that the defendant had been operating a motor vehicle at or above the legal limit, and he was charged with OUI.

Before trial, the defendant asked the court to suppress the blood test evidence, as it was obtained without a warrant and without the direct consent of the defendant. The trial judge denied the motion, finding that the defendant signed the implied consent waiver that was handed to him and did not directly object to the blood draw. The defendant appealed the ruling to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, arguing that recent Supreme Court rulings heightened the standard for consent to a blood alcohol test. The high court agreed with the defendant, finding that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019) clearly states that implied consent laws do not give constitutionally adequate consent for all the searches they appear to authorize. The Court found that the defendant did not give constitutionally adequate consent for the blood draw. As a result of this ruling, the defendant’s consent was deemed invalid, and the blood test evidence should not have been admitted at trial. Because of this, the high court reversed the defendant’s conviction for OUI.

Recently, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts affirmed a lower court’s denial of a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. The case arose when the Worcester Police were granted a search warrant for the defendant’s apartment and followed the defendant as he was seen leaving the apartment building in a motor vehicle. After the vehicle sped away, the police returned to the apartment building and executed the search warrant. An officer knocked three times on the apartment door, announced that the police were present with a search warrant, and the officers waited five to eight seconds before entering the apartment with force. The apartment search revealed several items, including a firearm and ammunition.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the failure of the police to knock or announce their presence at all before forcing entry into the apartment should prevent the items found in his apartment from being used against him in court.

Generally, when reviewing a lower court’s decision on a motion to suppress, the appeals court must accept the lower court judge’s findings of fact unless there is some clear error made by the lower court judge. Also, in instances where there is conflicting testimony regarding a particular event, it is left up to the lower court judge to determine the weight and credibility of any oral testimony presented at the motion to suppress hearing.

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