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Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated a lower court’s order permitting a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. The Massachusetts criminal case arose when police arrested the defendant in connection with a fatal shooting. According to the court’s opinion, officers confiscated the defendant’s cell phone and then obtained a search warrant to search it for evidence. Before trial, the judge granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the cell phone evidence. The judge reasoned that the police obtained the warrant without establishing a sufficient nexus between the murder and the defendant’s cell phone. She did not address whether the search was “sufficiently particular,” but she noted that the search was not “limited in time.” The Commonwealth appealed and the court reviewed whether there was probable cause and if the search exceeded the scope of the warrant.

The Fourth Amendment and Massachusetts Declaration of Rights require that a magistrate determine whether probable cause exists before issuing a search warrant. There must be a “substantial basis” that lead a fact finder to determine that the items sought are related to the criminal activity under investigation, and in the place to be searched when the warrant is issued. Essentially, along with probable cause, the government must establish a “nexus” between the item sought and the alleged crime. Probable cause inquiries are fact-based, and courts resolve them on a case-by-case basis.

In this case, an eyewitness described seeing a male standing over the victim then fleeing the scene in a light-colored vehicle with an out-of-state license plate. Another witness saw a light-colored sedan driving quickly down a street. He then saw the car’s occupants moving around in the car, as if they were changing their clothes. When police arrived, they found the three men, including the defendant, sitting in the car. After realizing that one of the men matched the shooter’s description, police removed all three men from the car. At the time, the defendant was talking on his cell phone. Officers discovered a firearm that had recently been fired. Moreover, the victim’s cell phone contained a violent conversation between the victim and a contact believed to be one of the occupants. After that, the detective received a warrant to search the defendant’s cell phone. The warrant did not have any date restrictions.

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When investigating crimes in Massachusetts, law enforcement officers rely on a variety of methods. In most cases, police rely on statements from the alleged victim, physical evidence they gathered from the scene, video surveillance, and a host of other types of tactics. However, what can police officers do if no one recognized the suspect? A video is useless if there is no one to compare it to, and without a name, police may run into a dead-end.

In situations like the one described above, police may rely on newly-available facial recognition software to identify a suspect. Facial recognition software allows law enforcement officers to put a suspect’s picture into the program, and compares the photo to thousands of others in a database, looking for a match. While this may sound like it would work well in theory, in practice, facial recognition software has been responsible for several recent wrongful arrests, and an unknown number of wrongful convictions. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that facial recognition programs tend to not work as well when attempting to match Black or Asian faces.

According to a recent article by the New York Times, police wrongfully arrested a man after mistakenly believing that he committed a serious crime. According to the article, police responded to a call reporting a man stealing candy from a store. When police arrived, they found the man, who apologized and offered to pay for the items. He gave police his ID; however, when police went back to run it through their system, they realized it was a fake. The man fled, nearly hitting a police officer with his car.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a decision in a defendant’s motion to dismiss a Massachusetts gun charge. The Commonwealth charged the defendant with a weapons charge in violation of § 10(n), but it did not charge him with the predicate offenses of § 10(a) or (c). A district judge dismissed the case because of a defect in charging, and the Commonwealth filed a second complaint based on the same conduct. The defendant moved to dismiss the case based on a violation of Double Jeopardy principles.

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment mandates that a “person cannot twice be put in jeopardy for the same offense.” The rights create protections against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal and conviction. Additionally, it protects defendants from multiple punishments for the same offense. The law also bars retrials of defendants whose initial trial ends without a conviction, except in cases where the court declares a mistrial because of “manifest necessity.” Courts reviewing double jeopardy claims generally consider four factors, judicial estoppel, attachment, the character of the terminating order, and whether a mistrial occurred.

Judicial estoppel prevents parties from taking a position in a case that is contrary to their position in earlier proceedings. In this case, the court found that the motion judge was incorrect in finding that the defendant was estopped from arguing for dismissal based on the Fifth Amendment. Next, in reviewing attachment, the court must determine whether jeopardy attached in the first proceeding. The court found that case law has long made clear that jeopardy attaches when a jury is empaneled and sworn. Therefore, here, jeopardy attached in the first proceeding at that point. The court then reviews whether the termination was based on an acquittal or procedural. Here, the termination was procedural and did not constitute an acquittal; therefore, the inquiry moves to whether the judge declared a mistrial. In this case, the defendant did not consent to prosecution, and he did not invite a mistrial. The court found that judicial estoppel should not preclude the defendant’s fifth amendment claim. Moreover, because there was no manifest necessity for a mistrial, the court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds.

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Most people are familiar with the fact that a defendant can file an appeal if they are convicted of a Massachusetts crime. One aspect of the appellate process that is less commonly realized is that the court does not necessarily need to suspend a defendant’s sentence pending appeal.

Recently a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug trafficking appeal in which the defendant challenged the court’s decision to keep her on house arrest while her appeal was pending. In that case, the defendant was arrested and charged with several drug offenses back in 2014. At her arraignment, the defendant was released on her own recognizance, meaning she was not required to post bail. House arrest was not a condition of her release, and she showed up at every court date without issue.

At trial, a jury convicted the defendant of drug trafficking, and the judge sentenced her to five years of incarceration. The defendant appealed her sentence, which, if granted, may require a new trial. The defendant asked the court to suspend her sentence while her appeal was pending. In support of her request, the defendant told the court that all her family lives in the area and that she was released on her own recognizance pending trial without ever missing a court date.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts drunk driving case, discussing whether a police officer can take a motorist’s blood against their will. Ultimately, the court concluded that any involuntary blood testing done at the direction of the police without the defendant’s consent is inadmissible at trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the driver of an SUV lost control while exiting the highway, causing her vehicle to spin out of control, blocking most of the off ramp. A few moments later, the defendant’s vehicle collided with the woman’s SUV. The SUV struck the woman, who was standing along the road’s edge, seriously injuring her.

When the police arrived, they noticed that the defendant exhibited signs of intoxication, including bloodshot eyes and an unsteady gait. He also smelled of alcohol and had a gash on his head. The defendant was transported to the hospital, where a nurse noted he may have suffered a concussion.

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Under Massachusetts’ law, individuals convicted of sex offenses may need to provide identifying information to a state reporting agency, commonly referred to as the “sex offender registry.” Lawmakers maintain that the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry assists their agency with identifying sex offenders and reducing the likelihood of recidivism. After conviction and during sentencing, these individuals will receive a classification level, depending on their crime, dangerousness, and likelihood of re-offense.

The most common crimes requiring sex offender registration are battery, rape, indecent assault, assault with the intent to commit rape, kidnapping, drugging a person for sexual intercourse, inducing a minor into pornography, prostitution, and sex trafficking. Under Massachusetts’s law, convicted sex offenders must register with the Massachusetts registry if they live, work, or attend school in the state. Additionally, the law requires that these individuals update their information if they have a secondary address in the state, are moving to the state, become homeless, work in Massachusetts, or live in another state, but attend school in Massachusetts.

The registry requires these individuals to report their full legal name, any aliases, home addresses, and work addresses. Work addresses include all forms of employment, including part-time and volunteer work. The registrant must include their physical characteristics, including height, weight, eye and hair color, and identifying marks. Higher-level registrants must include fingerprints and photographs. Those convicted of federal sex offenses may need to register through the state and National Sex Offender Registry.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal regarding a violation of probation case. According to the court’s opinion, in 2015, the defendant pleaded guilty to battery on a child under fourteen, indecent assault, and child pornography possession. A judge sentenced the defendant to five years of probation. Under the terms of the probation, the defendant was registered as a level three sex offender under the Sexual Offender Registry Board (SORB), his location was to be monitored by GPS, he was prohibited from having contact with the victim, and he was prohibited from “working, volunteering, or residing” with children under 16 years old.

Evidently, the defendant was a self-employed home-improvement contractor, specializing in repairs of old homes. For more than thirty years, the defendant operated his business out of his home workshop. Per SORB requirements, the defendant filled out and submitted identifying information in 2015 and 2017, indicating that he was self-employed and listing his home address as his employment address. The defendant had the same probation officer for three years, and at no point did anyone advise the defendant to list all of his clients’ addresses as his “employer address.”

During this time, the defendant performed window restoration work at a client’s home. He removed the windows and did the majority of the work at his home workshop. At the time of the incident, the family did not have any children. Shortly after this job was complete, the family had a baby and hired the defendant to perform other home repairs. Over several months, the defendant performed work for the family; but he did not have any contact with the baby. On one occasion, a police officer stopped the man in a shopping plaza when he was on his way from the client’s home. The officer contacted his probation officer to determine whether the defendant registered his work address in the county of the client’s home—which he did not. The defendant was subsequently charged with a probation violation.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts gun case, affirming the principle that “a conviction cannot stand if the defendant proves that the jury’s deliberations were infected by racial or ethnic bias.” The case involved a defendant who entered a guilty plea to a sentencing enhancement who later found out from a juror that the jury’s deliberations were “infected by racial bias.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, immediately after the defendant was found guilty of possession of a firearm, one of the jurors approached defense counsel concerned about the “amount of racism vocalized during the deliberations by several of the jurors who voted to find the defendant guilty.” Defense counsel asked the court for the names and contact information of the jurors so that they could investigate the claim. The judge denied the defendant’s request, instead suggesting that the prosecutor agree to drop the more serious sentencing enhancement and proceed only with the less serious enhancement. The prosecutor agreed, at which point the defendant pled guilty to the lesser of two sentencing enhancements.

The defendant appealed his guilty plea, arguing that the judge improperly denied his motion to look into any potential racial bias in the jury. The defendant further claimed that his guilty plea regarding the sentencing enhancement was involuntary and, therefore, invalid.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts murder case requiring the court to determine whether the defendant’s statement to police was improperly admitted into evidence at trial. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s arguments, affirmed the trial court’s decision to admit the statements, and upheld the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested and charged for the murder of a drug dealer. Evidently, the defendant arranged for the victim to meet him in a parking lot, where the defendant stabbed the dealer multiple times in the chest and arm.

As it turns out, the defendant had told his girlfriend about two weeks earlier that he was considering robbing his drug dealer. He brought up his plan again to her just two days before the incident.

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As the COVOD-19 pandemic continues, the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus remain in effect. Initially, the pandemic resulted in the near-total shutdown of the Massachusetts justice system, as all jury trials were suspended, and courts only heard emergency matters.

As the number of new cases in the area has started to drop off, courts have begun to reopen. However, many of the restrictions that were put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 will remain to have an impact on the ability of the criminal justice system to function properly. There are several areas of concern related to conducting jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sixth Amendment Right to a Fair Jury Trial

Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, anyone charged with a crime enjoys the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury of the person’s peers. An important part of this right is the requirement that the jury is drawn from a fair cross-section of the community. While there is no magic formula to determine what a fair cross-section looks like, courts have held that states cannot pass laws or implement policies that have the effect of limiting groups of people from serving on juries.

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