In a recent decision in Commonwealth v. Garvey, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the defendant that the habitual criminal statute required that the underlying convictions be based on separate incidents of criminal episodes. Because, in this case, the prosecutor failed to submit evidence to the grand jury that the prior criminal episodes arose from separate incidents, the supreme court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the habitual offender indictments. Continue reading →
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 →
The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently reversed the conviction of a man who was found guilty after trial in the Cambridge District Court of gun/firearms charges, including unlawful possession of a firearm. The issue on appeal concerned the pre-trial motion to suppress challenge of the defendant, who argued that he was unlawfully seized and searched by police because they lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him.
The case arose in 2006 when a woman reported that her car was struck by a bullet as she was driving in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At 10:50 p.m., Cambridge Police Officers met with the woman near the location where the shots were believed to have been fired. She told police that, immediately after the shots, she saw a group of young black males run into the courtyard of a housing complex. Notably, she stopped short of saying that the group was involved with the shooting of her vehicle, and she was not able to provide any descriptive information about the males she saw running. Continue reading →
A criminal defendant appealed his conviction for possession of a loaded firearm without a license after trial where he was acquitted of the “predicate” offense of unlawful possession of a firearm. The Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a conviction on these verdicts could not stand because the crime of possession of a loaded firearm is a “sentencing enhancement”, which does not apply without a conviction for the predicate offense on the firearm possession.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Dancy, the defendant was with a group of people attending a festival in Boston’s Dorchester. Someone stopped a Boston Police Officer and told him that a man had a gun, and pointed to the small group of black males that the defendant was with. Police officers followed this group and noticed that the defendant was walking at a fast pace, suddenly slowed down near a vehicle and then hard a noise that be believed was a gun hitting the pavement. The police stopped the group, questioned them, and found a gun under a parked gun. The defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm without a license; possession of ammunition; and possession of a loaded firearm. Continue reading →
The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently considered whether it was reasonable for Boston Police officers to seize and inventory the contents of a defendant’s backpack that was in the backseat of an unregistered and uninsured vehicle he was operating. In the case of Commonwealth v. Nicoleau, where the car was parked in front of the defendant’s home where he lived with his grandmother, and his grandmother was present and able to take the backpack and any other personal belongings, the Boston Police had no right to seize the backpack and search its contents pursuant to a motor vehicle inventory search. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s order suppressing the knife that was found in the backpack. Continue reading →
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.
In a recent decision concerning whether the seizure and resulting inventory search of a car by the police, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that, in circumstances where persons are arrested and their vehicle may be towed and inventoried, a practical alternative to the seizure and impoundment of the car could render its impoundment unreasonable and unlawful. See Commonwealth v. Jemaul R. Oliveira.
In this case, Mitchell Violet and Jemaul Oliveira were arrested for shoplifting from a department store. When questioned, they told the police that the merchandise was in a bag in their car and also gave the police the keys and permission to retrieve the bag from the car. The police took the keys, unlocked the car and retrieved the bag from the back seat.
After advising them that the car would be impounded and inventoried, the defendants appeared “agitated” and Violet requested that he have his girlfriend come pick up the car, as it was also registered in her name. The police rejected this request, conducted an inventory search of the car, and in the glove compartment, found a loaded firearm.
Both were then charged with Shoplifting by Concealing Merchandise and Unlawfully Carrying a Firearm.
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. 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…
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.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently rejected the Commonwealth’s appeal from the suppression of drug evidence by the trial court, holding that the judge properly suppressed the drugs seized from the defendant because the Boston Police conducted an unlawful search and seizure of his person.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Johnny Evans, the defendant challenged the stop by the police and claimed that he was subjected to an unlawful search and seizure, despite the recovery of cocaine. The judge who heard the defendant’s motion to suppress agreed, ruling that the stop was unconstitutional, and suppressed the cocaine.