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Articles Posted in Gun Crimes

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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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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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In a recent opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling analyzing sentencing enhancements in crimes committed while in possession of a firearm. The underlying case involved a defendant who was tried and convicted of two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant was also tried under a Massachusetts law that provides enhanced penalties for those who commit crimes while in possession of a firearm. The statute specifically states that an individual who is found to have committed a crime punishable by imprisonment in state prison while in possession of a firearm must receive at least five years imprisonment in addition to the penalty for the underlying offense. The defendant appealed his conviction under this statute.

The defendant argued that his enhanced penalty could not be based on his underlying convictions for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant argued that doing so was contrary to legislative intent and violated principles of double jeopardy. However, the court rejected his argument and denied his appeal. Speaking to legislative intent, the court noted that nothing within the statute prevented the Commonwealth from relying on the defendant’s specific underlying convictions. The court also interpreted the statute as intending to be used exactly as it had been in this case: to create an independent crime punishable by a separate sentence required to be served in addition to the underlying offense.

The court also stated that the defendant’s conviction and sentence did not violate the principles of double jeopardy. The prohibition against double jeopardy protects a person from being punished or tried twice for the same crime. In reaching its conclusion, the court pointed out that the statute creates a separate crime from the underlying root felony. Because the statute creates an entirely different crime from the underlying offense, a separate conviction and sentence do not violate principles of double jeopardy.

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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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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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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun possession case demonstrating how strictly the state’s gun laws are enforced. Ultimately, the court upheld the conviction of a man who was licensed to carry in New Hampshire but failed to obtain his Massachusetts license within 60 days of moving into the state.  According to the court’s opinion, the defendant lived with his girlfriend. One day, the defendant got into a fight with his girlfriend and became verbally abusive. The defendant packed his belongings, including a gun that he kept in the closet, and left the residence. The defendant told his girlfriend that he was going to spend the night in New Hampshire; however, the defendant ended up going to a bar to have a few drinks.

Later that evening, the defendant came back to his girlfriend’s apartment and, again, was verbally abusive when confronted by his girlfriend about being intoxicated. Ultimately, the defendant’s girlfriend fled the apartment out of fear for her safety. She called the police and informed them that the defendant was in her apartment and had a gun. She was not sure if it was in the apartment or the car.

Police arrived on the scene, and confirmed that the defendant owned a weapon. Police asked to hold onto the gun for safekeeping. The defendant was not arrested that evening; however, his girlfriend sought and was issued a protection order. Later, the defendant was charged with the unlicensed possession of a firearm. The defendant was licensed to carry a gun in New Hampshire; however, he had not obtained his Massachusetts license at the time of his arrest. A jury convicted the defendant, and he filed an appeal.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts violation of probation hearing that was premised on the defendant’s alleged possession of an unlicensed firearm. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the quantum of evidence necessary to sustain a violation of probation.

The Facts

The defendant was a juvenile who was placed on probation for an unarmed robbery. While on probation, the defendant was arrested for the possession of a firearm without a license. Evidently, police responded to a call for an instance of breaking and entering. Upon entering the residence, police found several teens in the attic. The defendant was sitting on a chair with a black jacket draped over the back of it.

The police officers put all the teens up against the wall after seeing what they believed to be a handgun protruding out of another teen’s jacket. After searching all the teenagers, police officers found a gun in the black jacket that was draped over the chair that the defendant was sitting in. Later in the evening, two of the teens in the attic told police that the black jacket belonged to the defendant. However, one of the other teens told police that it was his jacket.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun possession case discussing whether a defendant who is found guilty of a qualifying offense, and has previously been adjudicated delinquent of another qualifying juvenile offense, can be sentenced as a repeat offender under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). In discussing the issue, the court conducted an analysis of the Eighth Amendment protection from “cruel and usual” punishment. However, the court ultimately concluded that qualifying juvenile adjudications may count as predicate offenses under the ACCA.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm in a Massachusetts gun case. After a jury trial, but before the defendant was sentenced, the issue was raised as to whether the defendant should be sentenced under the ACCA as a repeat offender. Specifically, the issue presented to the court was whether the defendant’s juvenile adjudications, of which there were two, counted as “convictions” under the ACCA.

The Massachusetts ACCA creates a tiered system of punishment under which those who have previous qualifying convictions are sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences based on the number of previous qualifying convictions. The mandatory sentence for each subsequent conviction gets longer, ultimately reaching a sentence of 15 to 20 years for those with three or more qualifying convictions.

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