Massachusetts Supreme Court Reverses Course, Forcing Retrial of Firearms Charges in Spite of Double Jeopardy Concerns

Criminal appeals are often looked at as a chance for a defendant to reverse a guilty verdict or unfavorable pretrial decision, however appeals can work both ways. Prosecutors commonly appeal pretrial rulings to a higher court in order to improve their chances of a successful result at trial. In certain circumstances, prosecutors can even appeal dismissals or acquittals of criminal charges, although double jeopardy may come into play if a jury had been impaneled prior to a state’s appeal.

Earlier this year, one of my blogs discussed the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen on firearm prosecutions in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Court had reversed a man’s firearm convictions and instructed the trial court to enter orders of dismissal for the charges against him. After this first opinion and ruling were issued, the State asked the Court to reconsider their ruling, and a supplemental opinion was released in September of 2023.

The defendant was initially convicted of carrying a firearm, carrying a loaded firearm, and carrying ammunition without a license. However, an appeal revealed that, according to the recent Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, the absence of a license is a crucial element for these crimes. As the trial judge failed to instruct the jury on this requirement, the convictions were overturned, and the Commonwealth was prohibited from retrying the defendant. The Commonwealth sought reconsideration, arguing that the rule in Bruen did not exist during the defendant’s original trial. The court agreed, stating that double jeopardy doesn’t apply because the Commonwealth didn’t need to present evidence of lack of licensure under the previous legal framework, and a retrial is permissible.

The Court further found that the defendant was not protected from retrial on double jeopardy grounds. The principle of double jeopardy does not prevent the government from retrying a defendant if their conviction is set aside due to errors in the proceedings leading to the conviction. The Court emphasized that double jeopardy does not apply when a guilty verdict is reversed because of errors in jury instructions. Even when such errors result in a misallocation of the burden of proof, a retrial is considered the appropriate remedy. The emphasis should be on vacating the conviction and remanding for a new trial in the presence of harmful errors in jury instructions. As a result of the most recent ruling, the defendant may face prison time from the charges.

Speak with an Experienced Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Case Today

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Massachusetts, it is important to seek qualified counsel early on in the process. The Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy are experienced in using pretrial motions and discovery practice to prevent your case from going to trial. Whether we negotiate a favorable plea agreement, or possibly get your case dismissed outright, you can be confident that we will help you get your case behind you as quickly and painlessly as possible. Our firm represents clients facing all Massachusetts misdemeanors and felonies, including gun crimes. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.


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