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 Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forms a basis to protect criminal defendants from unreasonable searches and seizures. Millions of criminal defendants have been assisted by the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary provisions, which prohibit the introduction of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In a recently released judicial opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reinforced the state’s commitment to protecting individuals from the surreptitious collection of electronic evidence by offering state-specific protections that may exceed those offered by the Fourth Amendment.

The Wiretap Statute

According to the facts discussed in the recent opinion, The defendant in this case was discovered and arrested through a series of three drug transactions, each involving an undercover Boston police officer equipped with a cell phone capable of making surreptitious audio-visual recordings. The officer’s phone used an application to transmit live audio and video to remote officers and stored the recordings in the cloud. The defendant’s voice and image were recorded and transmitted without his awareness, leading to charges of distributing controlled substances. The defendant challenged the admission of the evidence at trial, claiming that a Massachusetts statute prohibited the admission.

The heart of this decision lies with the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute, which was designed to prevent the secret interception of oral and wire communications. The court emphasized the importance of distinguishing between situations where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy and those where such an expectation is lacking. This nuanced interpretation prevents the Legislature’s careful wording from becoming meaningless.

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The Massachusetts criminal code is designed to allow prosecutors and judges discretion in charging and sentencing decisions in order to address the serious issue of repeat offenders. Criminal defendants with a prior record may be charged with different crimes than another person without a record. Additionally, a defendant’s record is taken into account when a judge makes sentencing decisions. These charging and sentencing decisions can have an enormous impact on the penalties that a defendant may be subjected to for the same conduct. A Massachusetts appellate court recently heard a case that challenged a lower court’s application of the Massachusetts Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) to increase the punishment of a defendant with a prior juvenile offense.

According to the judicial opinion, the defendant had been charged with a firearm charge as a habitual offender because he had a prior conviction for a violent crime. The Massachusetts ACCA defines “violent crime” as an act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or possession of a deadly weapon, punishable by imprisonment for more than one year if committed by an adult. Prior decisions have established that a prior juvenile offense can serve as a predicate offense only if the Commonwealth can prove that the weapon used or possessed was inherently deadly. The defendant’s argument focused on the fact that his youthful offender adjudication involved an armed robbery with a fake handgun. The court agreed with the defendant that the defendant’s prie crime did not apply as a violent crime as required by the ACCA. A competent attorney was crucial in presenting this argument effectively, as the prosecution had to prove the inherent deadliness of the weapon, a nuanced distinction.

This judicial opinion underscores the pivotal role of competent legal counsel when facing cases involving prior offenses. Competent attorneys are vital in cases where the proper interpretation of statutes can mean the difference between enhanced sentencing and a more lenient outcome. They must be well-versed in legal precedent, statutory construction, and the nuanced distinctions between legal terms, such as “dangerous” and “deadly” weapons.

For many individuals facing DUI charges in Massachusetts, the absence of breathalyzer evidence might seem like a silver lining. However, a recent judicial opinion sheds light on how prosecutors can still secure DUI convictions without relying on this traditional piece of evidence. At the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy, we understand the intricacies of DUI cases and aim to equip potential clients with knowledge about the evolving landscape of DUI trials.

Understanding the Judicial Opinion

In a recent case, the absence of breathalyzer evidence took center stage, with the judge delivering a specific instruction to the jury to disregard any considerations related to the breathalyzer. Despite the defendant’s objection, the judge emphasized the appropriateness of the instruction, creating a unique scenario where the trial continued without breathalyzer evidence playing a role. Although the defendant was not required to submit to a breathalyzer test, his counsel feared that the lack of breathalyzer evidence could make the jury think that the defeadnt refused the test, which could suggest he was impaired at the time.

Admission of the Booking Video

The defendant also contested the admission of a booking video, arguing that it was prejudicial. The court, however, maintained that the video was relevant to establishing the defendant’s impairment. In DUI cases, driving performance, appearance, demeanor, and field sobriety test execution are crucial aspects. The booking video, taken shortly after roadside tests, became a focal point, providing insights into the defendant’s walking ability and potential limitations due to injury.

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With the increasing seriousness and public awareness of the nationwide opioid epidemic, Massachusetts lawmakers, prosecutors, and courts seem eager to address the problems by seeking quick convictions and harsh sentences for crimes relating to the distribution of heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids. While this strict enforcement of drug laws may ultimately support public health, overeager police officers and prosecutors often violate Massachusetts residents’ constitutional rights in the process of enforcing drug laws. A criminal defendant recently appealed his conviction for heroin distribution, alleging that the search leading to his arrest was unconstitutional.

The case in question involved a defendant accused of distributing heroin. After a jury-waived trial, a Superior Court judge found the defendant guilty. The defendant subsequently appealed his conviction, challenging pretrial rulings made by the trial court. One of the primary defenses raised by the defendant was a motion to suppress evidence. The crux of this argument was whether the police had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle, leading to the discovery of evidence that could potentially incriminate him.

In assessing this motion, the court followed the established legal framework. It’s essential to note that police officers can affect a motor vehicle stop based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In this case, the defendant contended that the police lacked such reasonable suspicion, which would render the subsequent evidence inadmissible. The court’s decision emphasized that when the basis for reasonable suspicion is a perceived drug transaction, it is not necessary for the police to observe an actual exchange of drugs or cash. Instead, it is essential that their observations occur in a factual context that points to criminal activity.

In the realm of criminal defense law, few issues are as critical as the effectiveness of legal counsel. The United States and Massachusetts Supreme Courts have both established that Massachusetts residents are entitled to a constitutional right to effective criminal defense counsel after being charged with a crime. A panel of The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently reversed a lower court ruling denying a defendant the opportunity to withdraw a guilty plea for a drug possession charge, after his counsel failed to accurately advise him of the immigration consequences of the guilty plea.

The defendant, originally from the Dominican Republic, arrived in the Boston area in 2003. According to the facts discussed in the judicial opinion, the defendant was stopped by police in August 2008 on suspicion of a traffic violation. During the stop, police discovered suspected narcotics in his car’s center console, leading to multiple charges, including possession of a class B substance with intent to distribute. This charge carried a potentially severe punishment—up to ten years in a state prison.

In December 2008, the defendant opted to plead guilty to the drug offense and received a sentence of probation for one year, which he successfully completed. Fast forward to 2021, and the defendant, represented by new counsel, filed a motion for a new trial. His claim was centered on the allegation that his original plea counsel had failed to provide accurate advice regarding the immigration consequences of his guilty plea. According to the defendant’s affidavit, if he had been correctly informed of these consequences, he would not have pleaded guilty.

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In the pursuit of justice, one of the most fundamental principles is that every individual should be treated fairly, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background. However, there are instances where law enforcement officers may engage in selective enforcement practices, targeting individuals based on their race, which raises serious concerns about civil rights violations. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently released an opinion addressing an allegation that the defendant was illegitimately stopped because of his race. If proven, this allegation could be fatal to the prosecution’s case.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant was arrested after a late-night traffic stop in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The initial reason for the stop was the lack of illumination on the rear license plate of his vehicle. However, before approaching the driver, the arresting officer learned that the car’s owner had an outstanding arrest warrant and was Black. Upon confirming that the defendant was both the driver and the owner of the vehicle, the officer proceeded with the arrest, subsequently discovering a handgun in the defendant’s possession, which ultimately led to his arrest on several felony charges.

Before trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence and statements obtained during the stop. To support his motion, the defendant presented several exhibits, including statistics on the officer’s prior citations, which indicated a disproportionately high number of citations issued to Black motorists. He argued that these statistics created a reasonable inference of racial discrimination and thus warranted an evidentiary hearing. At this hearing, the trial judge determined that the officer truthfully testified that he did not know that the defendant was black before initiating the traffic stop. Under Massachusetts law, the Commonwealth can present a reasonable, race-neutral argument to rebut an accusation that a stop or arrest was racially motivated, which the trial judge accepted, allowing the case to proceed toward a trial.

Sexual assault and rape prosecutions in Massachusetts involve some of the most serious allegations and consequences envisioned by the criminal code. Because the facts of a sexual assault case are often based upon the credibility of both the victim and the defendant, evidence that discredits a victim can be highly beneficial to a defendant in such cases. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently affirmed a defendant’s rape conviction, in spite of the defense’s objections to the exclusion of relevant evidence from the trial which placed the credibility of the victim at issue.

The Rape Shield Statute and Evidence Admissibility

An important point of law in this case is the Massachusetts rape shield statute, G.L. c.233, §21B. This statute limits the admissibility of evidence related to a victim’s sexual conduct, aiming to protect the victim’s privacy and prevent the introduction of irrelevant or prejudicial information. The statute outlines exceptions, allowing evidence that pertains to the victim’s sexual conduct with the defendant or recent conduct that explains physical characteristics alleged to be the result of a defendant’s conduct. The defendant sought to introduce evidence regarding the victim’s underpants collected during a medical examination performed after the alleged assault.

The state Supreme Court upheld the denial of the motion to admit this evidence, emphasizing that the defendant failed to establish a connection between the underpants collected and the ones worn by the victim on the night of the alleged rape. The court noted that the defendant’s argument of proving the victim’s intercourse with another individual and explaining her testimony about physical discomfort lacked substantive evidence that would permit the evidence’s admission at trial.

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Massachusetts is the home to over 250,000 people who do not have legal status to live in the United States. Many undocumented residents arrived in the country legally but overstayed their visas or were not granted asylum and elected to stay without legal status. The Massachusetts House and Senate recently passed a law that will allow many of those 250,000 residents to obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license without regard for their federal legal status. Under the new law, this 4% of the state’s population can become eligible to drive on roads in the state legally if they complete an application and pass the requisite examinations to become licensed.

The passage of the new law helps to reconcile state laws with the reality on the ground; that undocumented persons comprise a significant part of the state population, and their contributions to the economy and culture of the state demonstrate that they shouldn’t be required to live in the shadows. Under the law, a properly licensed and otherwise law-abiding resident does not need to fear criminal prosecution for driving to work or heading to the store to buy diapers.

Before the passage of the new law, many undocumented residents made the difficult choice to use fraudulent information to obtain a driver’s license for employment or other purposes. People who have fraudulently obtained a driver’s license may not be permitted to legally obtain a license now that the law has changed. Specifically, facial recognition technology used by the Registry of Motor Vehicles will prevent a person with an existing license obtained using fraudulent information from applying for a new license under their actual identity unless the person admits to fraudulently obtaining the license in the first place.

Courts in Massachusetts and nationwide are faced with a difficult task in prosecuting and sentencing juvenile offenders for serious crimes. Under certain circumstances, juveniles can be tried and sentenced as if they were adults, while judges also have the discretion to place the children in the custody of a youth services division, which may work to educate and rehabilitate the children before releasing them back into society as adults. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard an appeal by state prosecutors, who challenged a judge’s imposition of a suspended commitment to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) for a child convicted of a firearm offense.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the child was arrested and charged with the possession of an unregistered firearm after police noticed the gun in his car after a traffic stop. After his arrest, the youth was committed to a DYS juvenile detention facility pending his trial. The juvenile entered into a plea agreement after 8 months in DYS custody. At sentencing, the judge found that the youth had done “very well” during the eight months he spent in DYS custody and that he had a supportive home environment, and that no further incarceration would be necessary. The judge sentenced him to a three-year term in DYS custody but suspended the incarceration pending the youth’s participation and completion of a probation program. As a result of his sentence, the youth would be permitted to return home and live with his family while he fulfilled the probation conditions.

The Commonwealth appealed the judge’s sentence to the state Court of Appeals, arguing that state law gave the judge no authority to issue such a lenient sentence. Specifically, the state argued that a commitment to DYS custody after sentencing could not be suspended under the conditions present in the case. The Massachusetts Supreme Court took jurisdiction of the case. The high court disagreed with the prosecutors, ruling that it is well within the discretion of a sentencing judge to issue a commitment to DYS but to hold that commitment pending the completion of probation. As a result of the high court ruling, the youth will be permitted to return to his family and remain free as long as he follows the probation conditions implemented by the judge.

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