Articles Posted in Homicide

In a recent criminal case in Massachusetts, a defendant appealed his guilty conviction for murder in the first degree. On appeal, the defendant argued that the officers had coerced him into providing a confession of guilty; the higher court, however, ruled that the confession was entirely voluntary.

The court’s opinion highlights the fact that without an attorney present, it is always best to refrain from admitting to having committed a crime. Competent, aggressive representation is helpful at any phase of a criminal case, but especially during the interrogation process. Here, having waived the right to an attorney and having instead chosen to continue the conversation with police officers, the defendant voluntarily confessed to the crime. The court affirmed his guilty verdict.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, this case began when the defendant entered a married couple’s home, stabbed the couple, and stole several of the couple’s valuables. One of the victims immediately died from the incident, and the second died approximately one month later. The day after the attack, surveillance from a nearby store showed the defendant using one of the victim’s debit cards, and police officers took the defendant in for questioning.
During the questioning, the defendant immediately admitted to having committed the attack. The defendant was charged with murder, and his case went to trial. After trial, the jury announced a guilty verdict, and the defendant was sentenced accordingly. He promptly appealed.

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Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in a case involving manslaughter as well as assault and battery. In the decision, the court addressed something called the dangerousness statute, which is a law in Massachusetts that allows the Commonwealth to hold a criminal defendant without bail if that defendant is charged with at least one crime that the statute explicitly lists. On appeal, the defendant argued that he should not have been held without bail because his crime is not listed in the dangerousness statute. Agreeing with the defendant, the court rejected the Commonwealth’s argument and affirmed the defendant’s petition.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving an SUV when he collided with the back of a moving car. He then proceeded to sideswipe several parked cars on one side of the road. Despite these collisions, the defendant kept on driving, ultimately striking a pedestrian in the process. After hitting the pedestrian, the defendant’s SUV rear-ended another car and rolled onto its side, continuing to hit other vehicles as it rolled. There were twelve vehicles involved in the collisions, and the pedestrian ended up dying in the hospital due to her injuries.

Police officers determined that the defendant had suffered an opiate overdose immediately before the collision. The defendant also admitted that he had consumed two shots of whiskey and a few different prescription drugs preceding the crash.

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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.

Recently, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts murder case. The case arose after three individuals were murdered, and their dismembered bodies were found in plastic bags. The Commonwealth’s case hinged on the premise that the defendant and two others murdered the victims to prevent them from testifying against one of the accomplices. The parties were tried separately and convicted of three counts of first-degree murder.

Amongst several contentions, the defendant argued that evidence of his membership in the Aryan Brotherhood was impermissible. He contended that the evidence carried a risk of substantial unfair prejudice and outweighed any probative value. Specifically, he argued that the judge’s ruling permitting anatomical drawings, photographs of weapons and evidence of his membership in the Brotherhood was an abuse of discretion. In response, the Commonwealth alleged that the evidence was relevant and admissible. The court focused on the evidence implicating the parties in the murder.

Under the Massachusetts Rules of Evidence, the law prohibits the prosecution from introducing “prior bad act” evidence to illustrate a defendant’s bad character. However, the evidence is admissible for non-propensity purposes. Courts maintain a great deal of discretion when determining whether evidence is unfairly prejudicial to a defendant. Here, the Commonwealth argued that the evidence was properly admitted for two non-propensity-related reasons. First, the evidence shows how one of the accomplices induced another to help bury the victims’ remains; second, how the defendant’s admission to another member of the Aryan Brotherhood enhances the jailhouse informant’s credibility.

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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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts homicide case, discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress images taken from a digital camera found in the defendant’s apartment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the admission of the photos was not improper, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant and the victim were involved in an on-and-off romantic relationship that was, on some level, characterized by domestic violence. In fact, the defendant had pending domestic violence charges when he was arrested for her murder.

Evidently, the defendant was out at a bar when he told another bar patron that his girlfriend was dead in his apartment. The next day, the patron called the police, who spoke with the defendant. The defendant admitted he killed his girlfriend. Police officers obtained a warrant to search his apartment, where they found a digital camera. On the camera were graphic photographs of the victim with the defendant’s hands around her neck. Police then obtained a second search warrant to search the contents of the camera. While officers had already searched through the camera and reviewed the photos, this fact was left out of the warrant application.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts homicide case discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that was obtained from a cell phone that was in his pocket when he was arrested. Ultimately, the court concluded that while police officers legally seized the phone, they conducted an illegal investigatory search of the phone when they used it for “investigative purposes.”

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested on suspicion of murder. On the day of his arrest, the defendant had a cell phone in his pocket. The defendant’s brother and father went to the police station to give statements to detectives. The first question the detective asked the defendant’s brother was whether he had a cell phone. The brother responded that the defendant had his phone.

The detective continued to question the brother about the phone, asking for the code to unlock it. The defendant’s brother provided the correct code, and the detective unlocked the phone. The detective then asked additional questions about the phone, including how the phone’s screen got cracked. The defendant’s brother also told detectives he got the phone new about a year before, he gave them the phone number, and told them that the defendant used the phone “all the time.” Detectives then asked the defendant’s brother for consent to search the phone, which was given. Detectives discovered a video of the defendant discussing his role in the murder.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts manslaughter case discussing whether the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction. Ultimately, the court concluded that the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient and reversed the defendant’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter. The court upheld the defendant’s conviction for distribution of heroin.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and was also a heroin user. One day, another student who lived in the defendant’s neighborhood learned that the defendant frequently made trips to New York to buy heroin, and asked the defendant to pick him up some heroin on the next trip. The defendant agreed, and brought the other student back nine packets of heroin. The next day, the student’s father found his son dead from a heroin overdose in his apartment. The student had consumed three of the packets given to him by the defendant.

The defendant was charged with the distribution of heroin as well as involuntary manslaughter. At trial, the defendant was convicted of both counts. The defendant appealed each of his convictions on the basis that the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient to sustain a conviction.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts homicide case discussing whether the statements made by the defendant should be suppressed. The court held that the police did not safeguard the defendant’s rights by informally translating the Miranda warnings, and went further to hold that the cell site location information (CSLI) was a product of those statements. Thus, the court held that the CSLI data should also be suppressed.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s girlfriend was found dead in her car, with a gunshot wound to the head. The investigating officer noticed a surveillance camera nearby, and after showing the video to family members, the detective developed the defendant as a suspect.

Once police identified the defendant, they arrested him. At this point, police officers realized that the defendant would need to have his Miranda warning provided orally and in Spanish because he only spoke Spanish, and was illiterate in both English and Spanish. The detectives found an officer who spoke Spanish, but was not trained as a translator. This officer read the defendant his Miranda rights.

In a Massachusetts criminal case, the jury consists of either six of twelve jurors. After a trial, a defendant cannot be convicted unless all jurors unanimously agree that the defendant was guilty of the crimes charged. Thus, if even one juror believes that a defendant is not guilty, the court will declare a mistrial, and the defendant will avoid a conviction. For this reason, the jury selection process in Massachusetts criminal trial is critical.

The history of jury-selection practices across the United States is an unfortunate one. While the jury-selection process allows prosecutors and defendants to strike jurors from the panel who they believe will favor the other side through what is called a peremptory strike, there are limits on the exercise of these peremptory strikes.

One of the most fundamental rights any criminal defendant enjoys is the right to be tried by a jury of their peers. This right, embodied in the Sixth Amendment, requires that a jury be drawn from a fair cross-section of society. Thus, in the case, Batson v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the prosecution cannot use their peremptory strikes to eliminate jurors based on their race. Since then, the Court has considered numerous other cases involving race-based selection techniques, most recently with the case Flowers v. Mississippi.

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