Articles Posted in Criminal Appeals

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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…

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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…”

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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The United States Supreme Court today heard arguments in the cases of Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama on the issue of whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the 8th Amendment, to sentence a youthful offender to life without the possibility of parole. The decision result in a change to Massachusetts law, which currently allows for juvenile life sentences without parole.

By way of background, the court has previously ruled against similar punishments for youth and adult offenders in the past. In 2005, the Court prohibited the imposition of the death penalty for any minor convicted of murder in the case of Roper v. Simmons. Then, in 2010, in the case of Graham v. Florida, the Supreme Court prohibited the imposition of a life without the possibility of parole sentence for a minor who committed any crime other than murder.

In both of those cases, the Supreme Court ruled that, due to the immaturity of youthful judgment and moral sense, those punishments were unconstitutional and therefore a form of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment. With those cases as a backdrop, attorneys are urging the court to rule that a sentence of life without parole for the crime of murder is also too severe and unconstitutional.