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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.

Over the last half-century, the widespread use of global positioning systems (GPS) technology has supplemented the toolkits used by law enforcement and prosecutors for investigating and prosecuting crimes. Although GPS technology is widespread and generally accepted as accurate for most location monitoring applications, the use of the technology by prosecutors as evidence in criminal trials may not always be permitted. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently reversed a lower appellate decision that had allowed the Commonwealth to introduce GPS evidence to prove a defendant’s speed and location around the scene of a crime.

In the recently decided appeal, the defendant was accused of armed assault with intent to murder after he allegedly fired a gun into a moving car in an incident in September of 2015. Although there were no direct eyewitnesses to the crime, witnesses described a man meeting the description of the defendant in the area of the crime shortly before the shooting and also fleeing after. Because the defendant was on federal probation for a previously committed crime, he was wearing an ankle-mounted GPS monitor at the time of the crime. Law enforcement investigators assessed the GPS monitor data to determine the defendant’s location and his speed of movement around the time that the crime was committed, and he was arrested for the shooting.

The defendant was charged with armed assault with intent to murder. At trial, the prosecution successfully admitted the evidence from the GPS monitor in the case against him against defense objections. The defendant was convicted of the charges and ultimately appealed the evidentiary rulings and his conviction to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The defense argued that the GPS data pertaining to the defendant’s location and speed at the time of the offense was not sufficiently reliable to be admitted at trial. The high court agreed with the defense in part, ruling that the GPS data from the particular model of ankle monitor the defendant was wearing had not been properly proven or formally tested to accurately measure the speed of someone wearing the unit. The high court rejected the defense’s argument that the location data was not reliable, as it had been formally tested and was generally accepted as accurate in the legal and scientific communities. After determining that the evidence of the defendant’s speed was not admissible, the court reversed the defendant’s assault conviction, and the prosecution will need to seek a retrial of the defendant if they desire a conviction.

In certain instances, a person charged with a Massachusetts criminal offense may wish to appeal a court ruling before his or her case has gone to trial and resulted in a final conviction. Such appeals of intermediate rulings, known as interlocutory appeals, can be useful in preventing a defendant’s rights from being infringed upon before a trial, which could place the defendant at a potentially irreparable disadvantage at trial. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently addressed an interlocutory appeal filed by a Massachusetts man who had been charged with several crimes involving domestic violence.

The defendant who filed the recently decided appeal is a Massachusetts man who was charged with several alleged crimes that occurred over the course of a few months and involved the same victim, who was a domestic partner of the defendant. Prosecutors sought to try the defendant for all of the alleged crimes in a single trial, claiming that the alleged crimes were interconnected enough for them to be tried together. The defendant opposed the prosecution’s motion, asking the court to hear the charges separately.

The trial court granted the prosecution’s motion to join the charges, resulting in the defendant filing an interlocutory appeal with the state supreme court. Arguing that he would be prejudiced by charging the alleged crimes together, the defendant attempted to have the trial judge’s decision to grant the motion reversed. In a summary and unpublished opinion, the high court rejected the defendant’s appeal. Under Massachusetts law, interlocutory appeals in criminal cases are limited to scenarios in which the defendant would be unfairly prejudiced by a court’s failure to consider an error before a final judgment was issued. In this instance, the court decided that the trial court’s decision to grant the prosecution’s motion, if erroneous, could be appealed if and after the defendant is convicted of the alleged crimes, and he will not suffer any prejudice by waiting until after trial to make such an appeal. As a result of the Supreme Court decision, the defendant’s trial will proceed without further interruption.

The Supreme Judicial Court recently reversed a defendant’s Massachusetts assault and battery conviction, finding that the trial court made a prejudicial error in excluding the defendant’s expert witness. After an altercation with two men, the court indicted the appellant on two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant argued that he acted in self-defense after one of the men attacked him based on racial animus. To substantiate his claim, the defendant proposed two expert witnesses that could testify that the man had a tattoo of a symbol affiliated with a white supremacist group. The judge excluded the witnesses, and the defendant was convicted.

On appeal, the court considered whether the trial judge incorrectly excluded the defendant’s experts. At trial, the defendant attempted to introduce two experts: one with a doctorate in cultural anthropology who studies the nationalist movement, and another with a doctorate in educational leadership and is an expert on gangs. The defendant argued that the judge’s finding that the experts were not reliable was an abuse of discretion.

Under Massachusetts law, expert testimony works to aid jurors in interpreting evidence that is outside common knowledge. The Daubert-Lanigan standard generally governs the admission of expert testimony. The testimony must stem from a “reliable foundation” and be “relevant to the task at hand” to meet this standard. Evidence is relevant if it tends to make a fact more or less probable.

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