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.

Both the Massachusetts State Constitution and the United States Constitution protect criminal defendants’ right to be effectively represented by counsel during their prosecution. A convicted person who can demonstrate that their attorney was ineffective in representing them may be entitled to the reversal of a conviction, even when the defendant pleaded guilty to the charges against them. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently reversed a man’s conviction for sex trafficking charges after it came to light that his court-appointed defense attorney had been publishing extremely bigoted statements against both the religion and the race of the defendant to social media while he was representing the defendant.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the defendant in the case was a black man who was also a practicing Muslim. The defendant was unable to afford an attorney, and was appointed a public defendant to represent him through the prosecution. While representing the defendant, his attorney chastised him for wearing a Muslim prayer cap in the courthouse, made other derogatory statements toward the man’s race and religion, and told the defendant that he would be unable to obtain a different attorney if he tried. As a result of advice given to him by his attorney, the man pleaded guilty to the crimes against him and was sentenced to over seven years in state prison for his crimes.

Several years later, it was discovered that the defendant’s attorney had been publishing bigoted and derogatory statements toward both Muslims and nonwhite people throughout his time representing clients as a court-appointed attorney. Based upon this newly discovered information, the defendant requested a new trial, arguing that the biases of his attorney prevented him from effectively representing and advising the defendant. The trial judge rejected the defendant’s motion, finding that the defendant failed to demonstrate any actual prejudice to himself based upon the attorney’s personal controversial beliefs.

Massachusetts law enforcement officers and agencies rely heavily on tips and testimony offered by confidential informants (CIs) when investigating and charging alleged criminal activity. Police often acquire CIs from the community in which they are investigating crimes. CIs who have previously been involved in criminal conduct are often offered incentives by prosecutors and law enforcement to encourage them to cooperate against their former compatriots. Because CIs are often involved in several investigations and are essentially working “undercover” in the criminal community while they are assisting law enforcement, the identities of active and inactive CIs are kept closely guarded by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that prosecutors do not need to disclose the identity of a confidential informant, even after a defendant argued that the identity may assist in mounting a defense against charged crimes.

The defendant in the recently decided case was stopped and arrested on suspicion of selling cocaine after a confidential informant notified police that the defendant was selling drugs on a Springfield street corner. Based on the informant’s tip, surveilling police officers witnessed the defendant performing apparent drug transactions and ultimately stopped him based upon a traffic violation after he entered the vehicle to leave the street corner. Before trial, the defendant requested the identity and other information about the confidential informant who allegedly told the police about his criminal activity. The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion, ruling that the information would assist the defendant in defending against the charges.

The prosecution immediately appealed the ruling to a higher court, and it was put on hold pending appellate review. On appeal, the Massachusetts High Judicial Court ruled that state law requires a trial judge to apply a two-step formula in deciding whether to unmask the identity of a confidential informant. After finding that the prosecution has properly invoked the informant privilege, a court must balance the competing factors of the defendant’s right to mount a defense with the state’s interest in protecting the functionality and physical safety of the CI. Because the trial court in the recent case did not appear to perform the two-step analysis, the high court reversed the trial judge’s ruling. Furthermore, the high court found that under the two-step analysis, the defendant would not be entitled to know the identity of the CI. As a result of the appellate ruling, the case against the defendant will proceed with the CIs identity undisclosed.

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect Massachusetts residents from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement when a crime is being investigated. The most accepted and common way for law enforcement officers to ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment is for them to obtain a valid search or arrest warrant from a judge before performing a search or making an arrest. For a judge to issue a search warrant, the applicant must demonstrate that there is probable cause that the search or arrest is valid. A properly obtained search warrant is difficult to challenge in a criminal prosecution, and evidence gained therefrom is generally admissible during a criminal trial.

Although a valid warrant sets the gold standard for a permissible search, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement which permit law enforcement officers to perform a search without a warrant. One exception exists when an officer is performing a brief investigatory stop of a criminal suspect. The Massachusetts Court of Appeal recently affirmed the conviction of a man who was searched and arrested for burglary after the responding officers approached and searched him without a valid warrant.

The defendant in the recently decided appeal was arrested about a block away from the scene of an alleged burglary. The defendant partially matched the description of the perpetrator as recounted by the victim from her observation of security camera footage taken of the alleged burglary. After the defendant was stopped and detained, the witness confirmed in person that he was the person that she witnessed burglarizing her home on the surveillance footage. The defendant was then searched, revealing that he possessed items stolen from the victim’s home, and he was arrested and charged with burglary.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the rights of U.S. Citizens to keep and bear arms. These protections, while granted in the 18th century with the adoption of the Bill of Rights, are regularly open to reinterpretation by courts. The United States Supreme Court has the final say on constitutional issues such as the Second Amendment, and Supreme Court rulings may have an effect on state criminal prosecutions. The Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court recently released an opinion that addressed a defendant’s appeal of his firearm conviction in light of a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling which appeared to have broadened the protections of the Second Amendment.

According to the facts discussed in the recently decided opinion, the defendant in the case at issue was arrested and charged with firearms offenses after authorities responded to a tip from a confidential informant that the man possessed an unregistered firearm. After a trial in which the defendant unsuccessfully challenged the evidentiary and legal basis for the charges against him, the defendant was convicted of unlawfully carrying a loaded firearm. Although Massachusetts law exempts license holders from criminal liability under the statute, neither the defense nor the prosecution presented any evidence of the defendant’s possession of a valid license at the time of his arrest.

After the defendant’s conviction, the U.S. The Supreme Court decided the case of New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen, in which the court found that the Second Amendment protected citizens’ right to possess a firearm outside of the home. On appeal, the defendant argued that in light of the Bruen decision, the government needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not have a valid license to possess the firearm for which he was charged. The state high court agreed with the defendant, finding that the previous law placing the burden on a defendant to prove licensure was no longer valid in light of the Bruen decision, which required the government to establish a lack of a license as an essential element of the crime. Based upon the appellate opinion, the defendant’s conviction was reversed, and verdicts of not guilty were entered on the charges against him.

In the past decade, the criminal justice system in the state of Massachusetts has become infamous for egregiously dishonest conduct by state crime labs and prosecutors, resulting in thousands of criminal convictions being overturned. While the most well-known cases of this conduct relate to drug testing procedures by the state crime lab and two technicians who falsified testing results, there are other cases in which the law enforcement apparatus has been condemned by the courts for illegal conduct. One such case involves the state Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT), and their failure to honestly and faithfully supply both prosecutors and defense attorneys with exculpatory evidence to which they were entitled. A woman who was convicted of an OUI (operating under the influence) offense in 2013 recently challenged her conviction based on information that has come to light regarding the conduct of the OAT.

The defendant from the recently-decided appeal is a woman who was convicted of an OUI offense after being stopped at a DUI checkpoint in 2013. After being questioned, the woman submitted to a breathalyzer test which showed that she had a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit. As a result of the breathalyzer results, the defendant was arrested and charged with OUI. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the woman was advised by her attorney at the time that the case against her was strong, and she took the attorney’s advice and entered a guilty plea to the crime as charged.

After she was convicted of the OUI offense,. It came to light that the OAT had been purposefully withholding test records for the particular breathalyzer machine (Alcotest 9510) used by the police in order to prevent defense attorneys from challenging the admission of the breath test evidence at trial. In a series of cases decided since 2015, Massachusetts courts have reversed thousands of convictions based on breathalyzer evidence supplied by the OAT during that time frame. The defendant was not permitted to withdraw her plea because she pleaded guilty before trial occurred. She then appealed her claim to the highest court in the state, arguing that she would never have pleaded guilty in the first place had she known that the OAT was violating disclosure rules and the test results may not have been admissible at her trial.

  1. In a recent Massachusetts appellate court opinion regarding an appeal claiming insufficient evidence to support the conviction, the court upheld the trial court decision, affirming the conviction. At trial, the defendant and the co-defendant were convicted on various charges arising from the operation of a series of brothels in North Reading, Quincy, Boston, and Cambridge. On appeal, the defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions and that the information provided in support of a search warrant application was inadequate to establish a nexus between the alleged crimes and his home and cell phone.

Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, in January 2017, law enforcement began to investigate five different residences located in North Reading, Boston, Quincy, and Cambridge, where they believed illegal sexual services were being provided. Police located the apartments through advertisements for massage services on the website Backpage, and then contacted the leasing offices for those units. The defendant’s name was on the rental agreements for both the North Reading and Cambridge apartments as well as one of the Quincy apartments. The defendant also paid monthly rent for the apartments, using a check with his name and home address on it. On January 2, 2017, law enforcement officers stopped the defendant after observing him make an illegal U-turn. The defendant told police officers that he was coming from his primary residence to check the mail and empty the trash for his secondary residence. In the dumpster, the officers found a trash bag with used condoms, condom packaging, and small cards explaining how to use condoms in multiple languages.

For the next three months, the police watched the three locations, watching the defendant deliver groceries, and many men entering the buildings and leaving after several hours. The police interviewed several of the men after they left the apartments and the men admitted that they had gone to the apartments in response to advertisements knowing that sexual services were being offered. Officers obtained and simultaneously executed a warrant to search the five locations. At each location, condoms, ledgers, and other evidence were discovered on site. The defendant was charged and convicted of various charges stemming from operating brothels.

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The collective knowledge doctrine is a legal theory used in the state to give law enforcement officers expanded opportunities to legally perform a search on a criminal suspect without a warrant. Generally, the doctrine has allowed police and prosecutors to successfully argue that any single police officer involved in an investigation or pursuit is entitled to perform a warrantless search or arrest if any other officer involved in the investigation, or a combination of them, had sufficient knowledge to justify the apparent constitutional violation. This doctrine has been applied in the state even under circumstances where the officer performing the warrantless intrusion had not communicated with any other officers about what they knew.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently addressed an appeal challenging the application of this doctrine in light of state constitutional protections afforded by Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution. The defendant from the recently decided case was searched and arrested on suspicion of armed robbery after reports came in of a suspect that allegedly matched the description of the suspect, who police had encountered on the street. The search of the defendant revealed cash and a gun, and the victim of the crime later identified the defendant as the perpetrator of the robbery.

At the defendant’s trial, his counsel moved to suppress the evidence found in the search, arguing that the officer who performed the search did not have reasonable suspicion that the defendant was actually the suspect. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, ruling that under the collective knowledge doctrine, the arresting officer could be imputed with all of the cumulative knowledge of any law enforcement personnel involved in the investigation, and with that knowledge, reasonable suspicion could be demonstrated. The defendant was ultimately convicted of the crimes he was charged with, and sentenced to a prison term.

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