Articles Posted in Criminal Constitutional Law

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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 →

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In circumstances where criminal defendants, for whatever reason, elect to change their plea to guilty, the attorney must ensure that the client understands the full panoply of potential consequences that might result. One of the issues that must always be addressed before any change of plea is ensuring that the client, if he is not a citizen, understands the potential consequences of deportation of a conviction.

A conviction for many crimes may lead to deportation, removal from the country, or denial of re-entry, and it is the attorney’s duty to inform the client if the offense for which he pleads guilty to would result in removal. Following certain amendments to the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, if a non-citizen commits a removable offense, his removal is essentially inevitable, with a few exceptions.

Where a client elects to plead guilty to those removal offenses, simply advising the client that he is “eligible for deportation” or that he would “face deportation” is not enough.

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The Massachusetts SJC unfortunately decided a case, in my opinion, the wrong way. In Commonwealth v. Kevin Keo, the Supreme Judicial Court considered whether the defendant, convicted of first-degree murder, was entitled to a new trial where his attorney failed to obtain a full transcript of a witness’s testimony from a separate trial and where the prosecutor gave two inconsistent closing argument at the two trials as to who the shooter was.

At the defendant’s murder, trial the prosecutor presented a theory of deliberate premeditation and he was convicted by a jury. HIs trial, however, came after the trial of his co-defendant, in which the prosecutor proceeded under the theory that the co-defendant was the shooter. In this case and in the subsequent trial, the prosecutor suggested that the defendant was the shooter – arguably inconsistent theories.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, however, held that the defendant’s due process rights were not violated because the Commonwealth proceeded on a theory of aiding and abetting – that he had or shared the intent required to commit the crime of murder. The SJC also pointed out that that, in both trials, the prosecutor stated in his closing argument that it didn’t matter who shot the victim and the evidence was similar in each trial.

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In a recent decision in Commonwealth v. Shabazz Augustine, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that prosecutors seeking access to a defendant’s cellular site location information are first required to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause.

In recent years as the popularity of cell phone use has become so widespread, prosecutors have increasingly sought search warrants of a defendant’s cell phone records from their cell providers. The information commonly sought not only included a defendant’s call list, incoming and outgoing phone calls, text messages and pictures on the phone, but also cell site location information.

Cell site location information, or CSLI, is when a user’s cell phone transmits signals to cell phone towers that ‘ping’ the coordinates of the person’s mobile phone. The cell phone towers assist the cell phone in connecting to a call, and if the person moves closer to a different cell tower, the call is automatically transferred to that closer cell tower. By triangulating these pings, the user’s cell site location information can reveal a specific geographic location of where the phone was on a particular date and time.

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A New York federal judge ruled that the United States government’s phone gathering system is constitutional and a necessary measure to combat possible terrorist attacks against the country. The judge further ruled that Congress was within its rights to establish the system and that it does not violate any citizen’s constitutional rights.

Notably, this New York decision is contrary to the rulings of a Washington D.C. judge who held earlier in December that the program is likely unconstitutional. Essentially, one judge found that the NSA program is successful in thwarting potential terrorist attacks before they come to fruition; while the other judge ruled that he was not convinced that the program was producing any results at all. Given the contrary rulings and expected appeals in both cases, the issue will likely find its way to the United States Supreme Court at some point.

The New York federal court judge based his decision on several points, including reliance on a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held that individual telephone consumers do not have privacy rights in the data that the company retains regarding their use of service.

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The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the United States Constitution afford every citizen with certain fundamental rights, including the right to remain silent and assert one’s privilege against self-incrimination. Just about everyone has heard of that right, but believe it or not, many people charged with a crime either don’t exercise it, or don’t properly assert.

The United States Constitution states that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Accordingly, every person subjected to a custodial interrogation must be warned that he (1) has a right to remain silent; (2) any statement he makes can be used as evidence against him; (3) that he has a right to consult with an attorney and that if he cannot afford one one will be appointed; and (4) that if he does choose to speak, that he has a right to stop questioning at any time. Once these warnings are provided, a defendant’s subsequent statements are only admissible as evidence against him at trial if the government shows, by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant gave a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver of those rights.

Against this backdrop, it’s not enough to just tell the police that you “might” want to speak with a lawyer or are “considering” consulting with an attorney. Police are only required to stop questioning upon a clear and unambiguous request for counsel. In other words, the invocation of the right to an attorney must be sufficiently clear that the police officer understands the statement to be a request for a lawyer.

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In the case of Salinas v. Texas, the United States Supreme Judicial Court recently considered the question of whether a defendant’s pre-arrest silence, prior to being placed in custody or receiving Miranda warnings, can be used against him in a subsequent criminal prosecution as evidence of consciousness of guilt.

In this case, prior to being taken into custody, the defendant voluntarily answered some questions from police about a murder. After answering several questions, the defendant remained silent when he was asked whether any ballistic evidence testing would yield matches between his shotgun and the shell casings found at the crime scene. Rather than answer, the defendant remained silent, shuffled his feet, and bit his lip.

After being silent for several moment, he then continued answering other questions from the police.

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In a recent case involving a constitutional challenge to seizing a person’s DNA without his consent, the United States Supreme Judicial Court, in Maryland v. King, considered whether it is a constitutional violation for police officers to take a defendant’s DNA as part of the normal booking procedure following an arrest. This was authorized by a statute enacted in Maryland.

In that case, the defendant was arrested on assault charges. During the booking process, officers used a cheek swab to take a DNA sample from the defendant. The swab was ultimately matched to an unsolved 2003 rape, and the defendant was charged with that crime as well.

The defendant moved to suppress the taken of his DNA without his consent or without a court order, and the case eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court, which held that:

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The Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure establish time limitations as to when a criminal defendant is charged and to be brought to trial, and these protections are guaranteed in the United States Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

But in many criminal cases, there are a variety of delays that often occur. Delays can result from simple discovery or evidentiary issues; witness issues; or in some cases, neglect.

By way of background, defendants are protected from potential criminal charges through the Statute of Limitations or where the initiation of criminal charges are delayed. By statute. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 277, Section 63, many felonies must be charged within 10 or 15 years from the date of the commission of the alleged crime. The exception is murder, however, for which there is no statute of limitation. By contrast, most misdemeanor offenses must be charged within 6 years from the alleged commission of the crime.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a case involving a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute that criminalizes the Improper Storage of a Firearm.

G.L. c. 140, section 131L(a), which criminalizes the improper storage of a firearm that is not within the immediate control of the owner. By law, a firearm that is not within the immediate control of its owner must either be kept in a locked container equipped with a trigger lock.

In the case of Commonwealth v. John McGowan, the defendant was a licensed to carry firearms. He kept the firearm, however, loaded in his bedside table.