Articles Posted in Criminal Justice News

Both the Massachusetts State Constitution and the United States Constitution protect criminal defendants’ right to be effectively represented by counsel during their prosecution. A convicted person who can demonstrate that their attorney was ineffective in representing them may be entitled to the reversal of a conviction, even when the defendant pleaded guilty to the charges against them. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently reversed a man’s conviction for sex trafficking charges after it came to light that his court-appointed defense attorney had been publishing extremely bigoted statements against both the religion and the race of the defendant to social media while he was representing the defendant.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the defendant in the case was a black man who was also a practicing Muslim. The defendant was unable to afford an attorney, and was appointed a public defendant to represent him through the prosecution. While representing the defendant, his attorney chastised him for wearing a Muslim prayer cap in the courthouse, made other derogatory statements toward the man’s race and religion, and told the defendant that he would be unable to obtain a different attorney if he tried. As a result of advice given to him by his attorney, the man pleaded guilty to the crimes against him and was sentenced to over seven years in state prison for his crimes.

Several years later, it was discovered that the defendant’s attorney had been publishing bigoted and derogatory statements toward both Muslims and nonwhite people throughout his time representing clients as a court-appointed attorney. Based upon this newly discovered information, the defendant requested a new trial, arguing that the biases of his attorney prevented him from effectively representing and advising the defendant. The trial judge rejected the defendant’s motion, finding that the defendant failed to demonstrate any actual prejudice to himself based upon the attorney’s personal controversial beliefs.

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.

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.

Continue reading

Contact Information