Articles Posted in Criminal Constitutional Law

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In the execution of a search warrant by Boston Police of a multi-family home, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a superior court ruling that the seizure of a shotgun was improper. Clarifying the protections of the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the SJC affirmed intrusion into the “curtilage” of a common area of the multi-family property intruded into a constitutionally protected area and required suppression.

The seizure, therefore, violated the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. Continue reading →

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court last week upheld a District Court judge’s suppression order of a firearm found in a car after it was unlawfully impounded by police.

The defendant in the case was charged in the case was charged in the district court with unlawfully carrying a firearm without a license, and unlawful possession of a firearm or ammunition.  The car in which he was a passenger was stopped at 3:00 a.m. by police after they observed it to be parked on the street and across from a church. They noted that the car’s engine was running and its lights were off. Inside the car were two people, the driver and the defendant-passenger. According to police, they saw the occupants make “furtive movements”. Continue reading →

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The United States Supreme Court, in a decision concerning the lawfulness of a stop and search of a man, founds grounds to justify the arrest of the person despite ruling that the police officer violated the man’s constitutional rights by stopping him in the first place.  The decision, issued in Utah v. Strieff, is disturbing because it expands the scope of where unlawful police action might be negated where other circumstances, not known at the time of the unlawful police conduct, become known.

The facts of the case involved a drug investigation of a house in Utah, where the police had received an anonymous tip of “narcotics activity.” Police conducted “intermittent” surveillance of the home where they observed visitors who had left a few minutes after arriving.  One day, they observed this particular defendant leave the home and walk to a nearby convenience store. A detective approached him and asked him what he was doing at the home and requested the man’s identification. Continue reading →

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The United States Supreme Court reversed the murder conviction of a Louisiana man and granted him a new trial, finding that the the prosecutor had withheld evidence that could have supported his defense at trial that could have cast doubt on the credibility of prosecution witnesses. This case, Weary v. Cain, is notable because the SJC expanded upon the principle concerning violations of a defendant’s due process rights when the prosecution withholds material evidence.

Under the rule pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, the suppression by the prosecutor of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution. In Weary v. Cain, the SJC held that the defendant does not need to establish that “more likely than not” that he would have been acquitted if the withheld evidence had been admitted. Rather, the defendant claiming a “Brady violation” need only show that the evidence is sufficient to “undermine the confidence” in the verdict.

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The issue of the reliability of eyewitness identifications has been a hot topic in Massachusetts courts the last few years.  Several cases from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court have touched upon the danger of suggestiveness of eyewitness identifications, their reliability and consequently, their admissibility against defendants at trial.  Commonwealth v. Johnson, decided by the SJC on February 12, 2016, is yet another decision highlighting suggestive identification issues.

The Johnson case involved an issue where the defendant, prior to trial, moved to suppress (or exclude) the identification of him by the victim of a robbery because, he argued, it was made under circumstances that were impermissibly suggestive and therefore, unreliable to be admissible as an identification of him at trial. robbery  These issues are litigated in Massachusetts courts daily, and most often, it isn’t much of a big deal as far as the law goes.  But in this case, the major issue that sets this case apart from most others is that the impermissible identification procedure didn’t come from the police…

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In a recent decision, the Massachusetts Appeals Court appears to have broadened the scope of “reasonable suspicion to stop” a person in circumstances where he did not match the descriptions of the suspect as provided by eyewitnesses.

In the case of Commonweatlh v. Johnson, police responded to several 911 calls of shots fired by multiple shooter in a residential area. One 911 caller reported that the shooters were black and or Spanish, one of which ran towards a nearby park. Another 911 caller reported a shooter as a black male who wore a black jacket, a red bandana, and then ran from the scene (without stating even the general direction of flight). Continue reading →

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently considered a defendant’s challenge that his second degree murder conviction should be overturned because his constitutional rights were violated when the trial judge refused to grant immunity to potential defense witnesses. In the case of Commonwealth v. Brewer, although the SJC affirmed the defendant’s conviction, the court left open the issue of defendant’s, as opposed to only the government, having a means to offer immunity to potential witnesses.

In this case, the victim had been shot after leaving a party, though the evidence suggested that he was not the intended target of the shooting. The government called three witnesses who claimed the defendant was the shooter, one of whom was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. The defense, however, attacked these witnesses’ credibility and asserted that one of these three witnesses was actually the shooter.

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently ruled that it is reversible error and improper for a prosecutor to suggest the defendant had the opportunity to tailor his testimony and lie because he had heard the other witnesses during trial.  This issue was addressed in Commonwealth v. Alphonse, and because the error was reversible, the defendant’s conviction was reversed.

The defendant was tried for the crime of assault & battery in the Brockton District Court.  During closing arguments, the prosecutor argued:

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court considered whether evidence or documents that were provided to an attorney by the client are obtainable by prosecutors from the attorney via subpoena.  The question, the court ruled, depends on whether or not the the evidence was provided to the attorney for purposes of legal assistance.

This case involved circumstances where the defendant was the subject of a grand jury investigation who, in the course of seeking legal advice, had given his phone to his lawyer.  The government, on behalf of the grand jury, obtained an order from a superior court judge ordering the attorney to produce the phone so that the grand jury could examine its contents.  The attorney refused to honor the superior court judge’s ordering him to do so and the appeal reached the Supreme Judicial Court. Continue reading →

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court addressed the issue whether a defendant, who was the object of the police investigation, may still move to suppress evidence seized from the co-defendant under the theory of “target standing”.  Target standing is a legal theory that permits a defendant, who is charged with a possessory offense, such as unlawful possession of drugs or guns, to challenge the lawfulness of the seizure of that evidence even though it may have been seized by police from a co-defendant or other third-party.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Santiago, the SJC held that, a challenge to the suppression of evidence on the theory of target standing does not apply unless the defendant is charged with a possessory offense, even though he may have been the primary suspect in the police investigation. Continue reading →