Articles Posted in Criminal Appeals

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Many clients, and even attorneys, don’t understand the perils of interviewing potential witnesses without the assistance of an investigator. Even when I explain and encourage client to retain the services of an investigator, many of them forego the use of an investigator for no other reason than to save some money. Unfortunately, not hiring an investigator can end up costing the client much more in the long run, and in some cases, even a conviction.

The recent case of Commonwealth v. Zabek was heard before the Massachusetts Appeals Court and specifically addressed the issue of trial counsel interviewing witnesses on his own and the potential conflict of interest that may arise as a result.

In that case, the defendant was convicted after trial on charges of rape of child and other sexual offenses. In his appeal, the defendant claimed that his trial attorney was ineffective because he had an actual conflict of interest and could not therefore zealously defend him. The lawyer, the defendant argued, had interviewed a witnesses prior to trial without an investigator, which then potentially made the lawyer a potential impeachment witness at trial.

Specifically, because the lawyer interviewed the witness alone and without the use of an investigator, had the witness testified inconsistently at trial, the lawyer would have had an actual conflict against his client because his testimony might be necessary to properly defend his client.

The Appeals Court noted that the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit an attorney from acting as trial counsel at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness.

In this case, however, the Appeals Court rejected the defendant’s appellate claims because it turned out that the witness did not ultimately testify inconsistently with what was stated to the lawyer in the pre-trial interview. Additionally, the issue was raised before the trial judge and both the attorney and the defendant conceded that there was no reason to believe that the witness would offer any inconsistent testimony.

Nonetheless, this case is illustrative of the precise circumstances as to why a trial attorney should never interview witnesses on his own. By having another person witness the interview, that other person would then be available and able to be called at trial in the event the witness were to testify inconsistently.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Crimes and may be reached at 617-325-9500.

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A defendant’s motion for new trial from his conviction in a 1986 murder was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as a result of re-testing of critical forensic evidence.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Sullivan, the SJC affirmed the trial judge’s allowance of the defendant’s new trial motion from his convictions of 1st degree murder and armed robbery because forensic testing, technology not then available at the time of trial, would have been a substantial factor in the jury’s deliberations.

In this case, the defendant was convicted in the death of the victim in 1986. The evidence at trial illustrated two different eyewitness accounts: one version implicating the defendant in the killing; and the other that he was not even present at the scene at the time. One of the key pieces of evidence suggesting to implicate the defendant was the jacket he was wearing on the day of the murder…

At trial, the prosecutor argued that forensic testing on the jacket indicated the presence of blood on the cuffs; and a hair fiber found within the jacket was ‘consistent’ with a hair from the victim. This evidence was the only physical link between the defendant and the crime. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that this evidence clearly was a substantial factor considered by the jury in there decision to vote for a conviction.

In 2011, however, the defendant had the evidence re-testing, and new forensic testing was able to establish that the spots on the jacket were not blood; that DNA recovered from the jacket were not that of the victim; and that the hair strand could not conclusively be said to have come from the victim.

As a result of this newly discovered evidence, the SJC agreed that, had this information been available to the defendant at the time of his trial, he could have argued to the jury that there was no direct physical link between him and the killing of the victim. The evidence, therefore, cast “real doubt on the justice of the defendant’s conviction.”

Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Crimes, including Murder; and can be reached directly at 617-325-9500 or by Web Contact.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today decided the case of Commonwealth v. Michael Robertson and considered the issue of whether secretly photographing or videotaping a person in a nude or partially nude state is illegal. The court ruled that it is not.

The defendant in this case was charged under M.G.L. c. 272, section 105, “Photographing, Videotaping or Electronically Surveilling Partially Nude or Nude Person”, which states in part:

“Whoever willfully photographs, videotapes or electronically surveils another person who is nude or partially nude, with the intent to secretly conduct or hide such activity, when the other person in such place and circumstances would have a reasonable expectation of privacy in not being so photographed or videotaped…and without that person’s knowledge and consent…”

The defendant here, while a passenger on a trolley in Boston, allegedly used his cell phone to photograph the woman’s upper thigh who was seated across from him. Another passenger who saw what the defendant was doing reported it to the police and the woman later acknowledged that she did not know she was being photographed.

Later on that same date, another female passenger noticed the defendant taking a photo of her crotch area. Using her own cell phone, she took a picture of the defendant photographing her.

In reaching its decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Court analyzed the language of the statute that reads “…another person who is nude or partially nude.” The court distinguished between secretly photographing partial nudity and someone who is partially nude. In other words, the court explained that, as written, the statute prohibits the secret taking of a photograph of someone who is in a nude or partially nude state, and NOT secretly taking a photograph of partial nudity.

Put another way, the court interpreted the phrase “partially nude” to mean someone who is partially clothed and who has one or more of his/her body parts exposed at the time the secret photograph is taken. Analyzing the facts of this particular case, the court went on to specifically explain that a female passenger on a train, who is wearing a skirt or other clothing covering her body, is not a person who is “partially nude”, irrespective of what is or not on underneath.

Obviously, the purpose of this law was to prevent “Peeping Tom’s” from taking voyeur type secret photographs of person’s private areas, but the statute as written does not appropriately proscribe that conduct. Given the court’s ruling and interpretation of the statute as written, it would now be up to the legislature to revisit and amend the language in the statute.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all criminal legal matters, including Massachusetts Sex Crimes and Criminal Appeals.

To schedule a Free Consultation, Click Here to Contact a Massachusetts Criminal Appeals Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently reversed the conviction of a man who was convicted of Annoying or Accosting a Person of the Opposite Sex where the government failed to provide proof that the alleged conduct involved a sexual element.

The prosecution alleged that the defendant approached a woman and tried repeatedly to converse with her. She ignored his attempts and the defendant then left in his car. Sometime later, the defendant again approached the woman and ordered her to get in the car. Eventually, the defendant drove away, but not before the woman was able to get the man’s license plate.

Following trial, the defendant was convicted with having Annoyed or Accosted a Person of the Opposite Sex and appealed.

The Appeals Court reversed the conviction, holding that although the defendant’s conduct “may have been offensive in a generic sense”, it did not comport with the legal definition of “offensive” under the law.

Under the statute, in order for the conduct to be “offensive”, it must have caused displeasure, anger or resentment and was “repugnant to the prevailing sense of what is decent or moral. Whether the conduct is “decent or moral” suggests an intent to reach sexually explicit acts or language.

In this case, the appeals court found, although the conduct was offensive in the general sense, it was devoid of any sexual content, and the evidence was therefore insufficient to prove the crime.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Sex Crimes Charges, as well as all Criminal Appeals.

To schedule a Free Consultation, Click Here to Contact a Massachusetts Appeals Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.

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In the case of Commonwealth v. Joshua Lewis, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently emphasized the limitations prosecutors are required to abide by when arguing their cases before juries.

In that case, the defendant was charged with assault with intent to murder and several firearms offenses after being shot and wounded by a Massachusetts State Police Trooper. At trial, the defendant’s attorney argued that the defendant did not have a gun, fired at the defendant without justification, and then placed a gun where the defendant was laying.

In closing arguments, the prosecutor made statements to the jury that the defendant was a “street thug” and even went so far as calling the defendant’s attorney a liar; and the defendant’s theory of defense a “sham”.

An except of the prosecutor’s closing went like this:

“The entire defense in this case, I’d suggest to you, is a sham.”

“[what about] the wad of money in his front pocket. Of course, all us unemployed people have a big wad of money in our pocket. Where’s my money? They are street thugs who are out, and that they’re going to do with those guns, luckily, we didn’t get a chance to find out.”

“It’s the arrogance of street thugs that gets you in this case.”

“As you look over all of this evidence…[it] will be obvious to you that the lies came from [the defense] table. And I’m not leaving out the attorney either…”

The defendant’s convictions for the crimes of assault with intent to murder and firearms offenses were reversed by the Massachusetts SJC as a result of these improper comments made by the prosecutor to the jury.

In Massachusetts criminal trials, prosecutor are permitted to argue forcefully for a conviction based on the evidence, but it is improper to refer to: the defendant’s election to not testify; misstate evidence or refer to facts not in evidence; interject personal belief in the defendant’s guilt; play on racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice; play on the jury’s sympathy or emotions; or comment on the consequences of a verdict.

Aside from being completely unprofessional, a prosecutor may also certainly not personally disparage the attorney or infer that the attorney is somehow misleading the jury.

In the same way, it is improper for prosecutors to repeatedly refer to the defendant as a “street thug”, as this characterization encourages the jury to find the defendant guilty by virtue of his purported association with known criminals. Particularly in cases where there was no evidence of any such illicit associations, these arguments are extremely prejudicial to the defendant and may rise, as in this case, to the level of requiring reversal of the convictions.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis has experience in defending persons charged with Massachusetts Crimes of Violence and Criminal Appeals, and is available 24/7 for consultation.

To schedule a Free Consultation, Click Here to Contact a Massachusetts Appeals Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.

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In a recent case, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the dismissal of a juvenile defendant’s Murder dismissal, but also establishing new parameters in murder cases involving juvenile defendants who are to be tried as adults.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Javon Walczak, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court considered whether the trial court properly dismissed an indictment against the juvenile defendant who was charged with Second Degree Murder. The prosecution had presented evidence that the defendant, who was 16 at the time, stabbed the victim (Rene Valdez) when the victim and an accomplice tried to rob him.

Following the defendant’s arraignment in the Superior Court, a judge dismissed the indictment because the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to the grand jury establishing the offense of second degree murder.

Although the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed the trial judge’s findings and held that there was, in fact, probable cause for the charge of second degree murder, the court also held that the grand jury should have been instructed by the prosecution on the elements of murder, as well as the legal significance of mitigating circumstances raised by the evidence.

The Court specifically held that:

“In any case where the Commonwealth seeks to indict a juvenile for murder, the grand jury must be properly instructed by the prosecutor on the elements of murder, and if there are mitigating circumstances and defenses…raised by the evidence, the grand jury must be instructed as to that as well.”

The basis for the court’s ruling is that, unlike other crimes, a murder indictment against a juvenile adds significant other consequences, including the case being tried in the superior court, whereas for any other crime he would be tried in the juvenile court.

Presently, the Massachusetts criminal justice system treats juvenile defendants in one of three ways:

If a juvenile is charged by way of a complaint, he may be committed to the Department of Youth Services until the age of 18;

If a juvenile is charged by way of an indictment, he may be classified as a youthful offender and face more severe penalties than a juvenile tried as a delinquent, including the sentence that would be applicable to an adult defendant charged with the same crime;

In circumstances where the juvenile is charged with murder, however, both of these above are inapplicable because the juvenile court does not have jurisdiction over a person between the ages of 14 and 17 and the juvenile defendant indicted for murder must be tried according to the same criminal proceedings as if he were an adult.

For these reasons, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the grand jury must be presented with the elements of the crime and be apprised of any mitigating circumstances to ensure that the integrity of the grand jury process is maintained.

Boston Criminal Appeals Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Post-Conviction and Appeals.

To schedule a Free Consultation, Click Here to Contact a Massachusetts Criminal Appeals Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court last week ruled that police officers are not required to obtain a search warrant before they can search an arrestee’s cell phone call list following an arrest.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Demetrius A. Phifer, the state’s highest court rules that a search of a drug dealer’s cell phone call list was not a constitutional violation because it was a limited search and they had probable cause to believe the recent call list would reveal evidence relating to the crime for which he was arrested.

The defendant in this case was arrested after Boston Police allegedly saw him get into a car with a known drug use and engage in actions they believed was a drug transaction. After the police pulled his car over, they got his cell number and checked it against the cellphone they had seized from the buyer and determined the number was in the other’s call list.

This search, the court ruled, was a lawful search incident to arrest.

Notably, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court left undecided and did not go as far to making a bright-line rule that a search of a cell phone incident to arrest is valid under all circumstances; and if so, to what extent.

In limiting its decision, the court also did not go as far as extending this ruling to other areas of cell phone contents, such as texts and e-mails.

The court’s decision, unfortunately, could lead to further constitutional violations by police and law enforcement in general. With vague parameters, police will undoubtedly now further exploit the constitutional limits of this case and certainly try to extend the scope of what is permissible to other areas.

Practically speaking, there is no need for this ruling, as it just gives the police unfettered authority to search for evidence without restrictions. The alternative, which would be requiring police to obtain a warrant before conducting a cell phone search, would ensure that police have the requisite probable cause to conduct such a search.

Further, there would be no harm in requiring police to get a warrant. Arguably, the person is already arrested and the cell phone is already in evidence so there is no danger that the contents on the phone might be damaged or destroyed. By requiring a warrant to be obtained, all citizens’ constitutional rights would be fully protected.

Notably, in reaching its decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court relied, in part, on a California case which held that “…although an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy is diminished concerning his or her physical person when subject to a lawful arrested and taken into custody, the same may not necessarily be true with respect to the privacy of the myriad types of information stored in a cellular telephone that he or she is carrying at the time of arrest.”

The reality, however, is that cell phones today are not the cell phones of even 5 years ago. Where most people today now store very personal and highly information on the phones (credit card info., bank accounts, personal contacts and communications, etc. etc.), the public today does, in fact, perceive their cell phone and the data within to be very personal and confidential, not meant for the public. We do, therefore, have a tremendous expectation of privacy in these devices and the court’s ruling here, unfortunately, contradicts this reality.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Criminal Charges, including Criminal Appeals.

If you have been charged with a crime or even convicted of a crime and are seeking to appeal your conviction, Contact a Massachusetts Criminal Appeals Lawyer.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently reversed the conviction of William Santos, who in 2008 was convicted of the Murder of Luis Daniel Rodriguez during an alleged drug deal. Declaring that certain evidence was improperly admitted at his trial, the court has ordered a new trial.

Prior to his trial, Santos had argued that certain statements he allegedly made to police should have been excluded from trial because he had invoked his constitutional right to remain silent and asked to speak with an attorney. At the time, the judge in the case ruled that he wasn’t in ‘custody’ and therefore, Miranda warnings are not required. The prosecution also pointed out that despite asking for an attorney, he continued to speak to police.

Miranda warning are technically only necessary when the person is subject to interrogation by law enforcement AND he is in custody or in a custodial setting.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court, however, overruled that decision, holding that once there was an unequivocal invocation of his right to speak with an attorney, the interview should have been terminated immediately and the police should not have allowed him to continue to speak.

In all my years in defending persons charged with any crime, I have yet to see a case where the defendant spoke to the police and it benefitted him. In the vase majority of cases where my clients have made statements, the clients then assert that their words were taken out of context, changed and have even denied making statements altogether.

There is a reason why there is a constitutional right to remain silent, for not other reason that whatever you say can and will be used against you in court. Chances are, if the police are questioning you and think you’re a suspect, they’re not asking questions to help you – they’re asking questions to build a strong case and bury you when you get charged.

Unequivocally, the better and safest practice in ANY circumstances is to NOT answer any questions without first speaking to a lawyer.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Criminal Charges, including Murder and Criminal Appeals.

To schedule a Free Consultation, Click Here to Contact a Massachusetts Appeals Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently considered a case where a Milford woman was charged with Murder when she gave birth without medical assistance that resulted in the death of the baby (the baby was later found in the trash).

In its decision, the Court refused to impose a duty upon women that they must seek medical intervention when undergoing unassisted childbirth. The court thereby affirms a person’s protected liberty interest in refusing unwanted medical treatment.

In this case, the Massachusetts woman realized she was pregnant after missing her period and then taking a home pregnancy test. She didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy and chose not to see a doctor. Approximately 6 months later, the woman believed she was experiencing a miscarriage and her water broke. After 5 minutes, the baby emerged from her body but was blue.

The woman told police she made repeated attempts to scoop out the baby’s mouth and made rescue breaths, but the baby’s color never changed and she did not notice the baby cry or move. After not being able to resuscitate the baby, she disposed of the baby in the trash. The police discovered the baby’s body a few days later.

The Worcester District Attorney’s Office ultimately charged the woman with Murder and, after trial, a jury convicted her. The Supreme Judicial Court however, reversed the conviction and ruled that prosecutor’s failed to prove that the woman’s decision not to seek medical help was the cause of the child’s death. The Court distinguished this case from one where a woman intentionally foregoes medical assistance with the intent to kill her fetus; or where a woman undergoes unassisted childbirth after she was told doing so could jeopardize the baby’s life.

Essentially, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that someone can be subject to criminal liability if a viable fetus is intentionally killed, but this was not the case. In this case, the Court ruled that there was no evidence that the woman had any intention of killing her own fetus simply because she elected to not have medical treatment.

See court’s full opinion at Commonwealth v. Allissa Pugh.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation for all Massachusetts Criminal Charges, including Massachusetts Criminal Appeals.

To schedule a Free Consultation, Click Here to Contact a Massachusetts Criminal Appeals Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.

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In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Leslie Burton-Brown, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court considered the issue of whether a gun, manufactured before 1900, were unlawful to own/possess under the Massachusetts’ Gun Crimes Laws.

After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, Unlawful Possession of Ammunition, and Unlawful Possession of a Loaded Firearm. In his appeal, the defendant asserted that his convictions should be overturned because the gun at issue was manufactured before 1900, and under the law as written, he could lawfully possess the firearm with having been issued a license to carry.

Under the statute which criminalized the possession of a firearm without a license, the language further reads that the “…provisions of the [statute] shall not apply to…any firearms, rifle, or shotgun manufactured in or prior to the year 1899.”

In reversing the defendant’s conviction, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court resounded that, given the language of the statute, the defendant could not have been convicted of unlawfully possession this antique gun. The SJC went even further and overruled a prior Massachusetts Appeals Court case which had previously ruled that no “antique gun exemption” existed.

Moving forward, where a defendant is charged with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, attorneys should give the appropriate pre-trial notice to rely on the affirmative defense of exemption so that the defendant could demonstrate to the jury, through expert testimony, that the gun is, in fact, an antique.

Boston Criminal Appeals Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Gun Crimes Charges, including Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, Possession of a Loaded Firearm, and all Massachusetts Criminal Appeals.

To schedule a Free Consultation, Click Here to Contact a Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.