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Police officers make assumptions every single day. For example, a police officer may observe a motorist drift over the center line once or twice and assume that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In this example, the officer relies on the assumption that a driver is intoxicated because they are not able to maintain a single lane of travel.

Massachusetts criminal law allows police officers to make certain assumptions, within reason. Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving whether police officers can assume that the driver of a vehicle is also the owner of the vehicle. The case is important for Boston criminal defense lawyers and their clients to understand because, if the court sides with the prosecution, police officers across the country can make similar assumptions when deciding whether to pull over a vehicle.

The case arose after a police officer ran the tags on a pick-up truck and noticed that the owner of the truck had a suspended license. Assuming that the driver of the vehicle was the vehicle’s owner, the officer initiated a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer confirmed that the defendant owned the vehicle and then issued him a citation.

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For years, law enforcement officers in Massachusetts and across the country have relied on breath tests to determine an approximation of a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). These devices typically consist of a tube that is connected to a small machine. When an officer believes that a driver is under the influence of alcohol, the officer can ask the driver to take a breath test. If the test result indicates that the driver’s BAC is greater than .08, they can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

The use of breath alcohol tests is extremely prevalent. However, the use of breath alcohol testing devices can raise several legal issues in Boston DUI cases. One of the major limitations of breath testing machines, from a law enforcement perspective, is that they currently only test for alcohol. However, some jurisdictions have begun working on breath testing machines that could also be used to test for narcotics, such as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin.

Massachusetts law provides that all drivers must take a breath alcohol test when a police officer makes such a request. However, being required to take a breath test along the side of the road is an intrusion into drivers’ privacy interests. Thus, officers must base their request for a driver to take a test on articulable facts supporting a belief that the driver is intoxicated. If an officer is unable to point to any evidence suggesting that the motorist was drunk, the test results may need to be excluded. Of course, this introduces an element of subjectivity into the mix because an officer’s observations that a driver was “acting drunk” are rarely captured on video. This raises the issue of police officer credibility, especially when a motorist recalls a vastly different series of events leading up to their arrest.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts robbery case discussing show-up identifications and when they are permissible under state law. Following an arrest, one of the most important things law enforcement can do to further an investigation is to get a positive identification from the victim of the crime. However, eyewitness identifications have come under scrutiny in recent years, as studies have repeatedly shown that they are not as accurate as once thought.

Law enforcement can conduct identifications in several ways. The gold-standard when it comes to identification is a double-blind photo identification. The term double-blind refers to the fact that neither the eyewitness nor the law enforcement officer administering the procedure know who the suspect is. In a double-blind photo array, one detective puts the suspect’s photograph with several other people’s picture, and provides the photos to another detective who is not involved in the case. That detective then asks the alleged victim to make an identification. Double-blind photo arrays eliminate the concern that the detective administering the array could give a clue to the alleged victim.

In the case mentioned above, the defendant was identified by way of show-up identification. A show-up identification occurs shortly after an arrest. Law enforcement will transport the alleged victim to the arrestee, and ask the alleged victim if the arrestee was the doer of the crime. Of course, there are many problems with a show-up identification based on its inherently suggestive nature. For example, in this case, both alleged victims were transported in the same police car to the defendant’s location, where he was handcuffed up against a wall, surrounded by police officers. As the officer with the alleged victims arrived, he shined a bright spotlight onto the defendant, and both of the complaining witnesses immediately identified the defendant. The defendant was ultimately convicted and appealed his conviction based on the suggestiveness of the show-up identification.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts assault case involving an interesting evidentiary issue. Specifically, the case required the court to determine if it was an error to admit the official criminal docket of the defendant’s friend whom he was with when he allegedly committed the assault. The docket indicated that the defendant’s friend pleaded guilty to a similar crime, involving the possession of a weapon. Ultimately, the court concluded that admission of the docket was a constitutional error that necessitated a new trial.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant and a friend, Charles, were involved in an altercation with two other men. Initially, the defendant and Charles saw one of the men at a gas station, where the confrontation began. However, as the man drove from the gas station to a friend’s home, the defendant and Charles followed.

When the man parked in the driveway at his friend’s house, the defendant pulled behind. The defendant then got out and approached the driver’s side window of the man’s truck. At some point, the man rolled the window down slightly and the defendant pushed it down the rest of the way and struck him in the face. The man’s friend, who was sitting on the porch, ran down and tackled the defendant. Charles had a knife and, while this was going on, he got out of the car and threatened to kill both other men and to assault their family members.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts DUI case upholding the defendant’s conviction after affirming the denial of his motion to suppress. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer’s stop of the defendant was justified based on the officer’s observations that the defendant’s vehicle drifted across the right fog line for two or three seconds.

According to the court’s opinion, an officer stopped the defendant in the early morning hours on Route 202 after he noticed the defendant’s vehicle drift over the right fog line for a few seconds. Upon the officer’s approach and subsequent discussion with the defendant, the officer concluded that the defendant was likely under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Thus, the officer arrested the defendant for DUI.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the stop, arguing that the officer did not have a basis to conduct the traffic stop. A video of the incident confirms that the defendant briefly drifted out of his lane for a few seconds before returning to his lane. Other than that brief departure, the defendant’s driving was not called into question. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion, holding that “crossing a fog line one time for a few seconds does not constitute a marked lane violation.” The prosecution appealed.

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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.

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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.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts murder case resulting in the court’s reversal of the defendant’s murder conviction. The court based its reversal on the improper denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress identification and finger-print evidence that was obtained as a result of an illegal car stop.

According to the court’s opinion, police were investigating a murder that had occurred the night before. Evidently, one man was shot to death as he was driving by another car. A witness identified the vehicle as a Chevy Malibu. Detectives spoke to the witness, who explained that the car should have fresh scrapes under the vehicle as a result of it hopping a curb as it fled the scene.

The day following the murder, police officers observed a Chevy Malibu that loosely matched the description given by the witness. The officers followed the car, thinking they recognized the back-seat passenger as someone they knew to have an active warrant. The officers stopped the vehicle and, as they approached, realized that the rear passenger was not the man with the warrant. Nonetheless, the officers initiated small talk with the driver, asking for his license. The driver provided his license, which was valid, and then the officers asked if the car was rented. The driver responded affirmatively, and the officers asked for the rental agreement. No one in the car was on the rental agreement, so the officers towed the car.

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Jury selection in a Massachusetts criminal trial is a critical stage in any case. Because a defendant cannot be convicted unless a jury must unanimously find that a defendant was guilty of the crime charged, both prosecution and defense put a significant amount of effort into selecting jurors through a process called “voir dire.”

The voir dire process is guided largely by the judge overseeing the case. Generally, each side presents questions that they would like to ask potential jurors. The judge can approve or disapprove of specific questions, and may alter the phrasing on certain questions. Some judges allow counsel to ask the questions, while other judges ask the potential jurors the questions themselves. Of course, judges must follow certain statutory and constitutional principles during the process.

In a recent state appellate decision, the court affirmed the conviction of a defendant who was found guilty of indecent assault and battery, rejecting the defendant’s challenge to the lower court’s decision not to allow him to ask certain questions of the jury. Specifically, the defendant wanted to ask the jurors whether they had a bias against non-English speakers.

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One of the most significant and burdensome collateral consequences of a Massachusetts sex offense conviction is the mandatory reporting requirement. After a conviction for a qualifying offense, the Sex Offender Registration Board (SORB), will classify the defendant as either “low,” “moderate,” or “high” risk, each carrying a different set of registration and reporting obligations. Recently, a state appellate court reviewed one man’s challenge to the SORB’s classification that he was a level two, moderate risk offender.

According to the court’s opinion, in 2015, the man was convicted of two counts of open and gross lewdness. Evidently, the man displayed his genitals to a neighbor through a window in his home. After his conviction, SORB classified the man as a level two, moderate risk offender. The defendant challenged the SORB determination.

First, the man claimed that SORB did not have the authority to label him a sex offender because his conviction did not qualify. Specifically, the man argued that a previous arrest for open and gross lewdness did not result in a “conviction.” Second, the man argued that SORB presented insufficient evidence to classify him as a level two offender.

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