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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral argument in the case of Commonwealth v. Jesse Carrillo, where the defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter based on providing heroin to the deceased.  The defendant was a heroin addict himself and the evidence at trial indicated that he went to New York to boy heroin and that he would bring some heroin back to the victim.

At trial the defendant was convicted of both distribution of heroin and involuntary manslaughter.  The defendant claimed that the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of joint possession of heroin.  It was the defendant’s claim throughout the trial that he was a user and an addict but was not distributing heroin or making any profit from selling heroin.  The defendant testified in his own defense at the trial and outlined his heroin addiction.  The defendant also presented expert testimony.

Defense Expert

The SJC decided the case of Commonwealth v. Quinton Williams finding that the trial judge did not error by excluding a juror who stated that the criminal justice system was rigged against young black Americans.  The SJC in the majority opinion and concurring opinion of the Chief Justice stated that it would not be proper to exclude the juror for cause based on this opinion, which the Court indicated has empirical support so is closer to a fact than opinion.
The Court found that the trial judge properly excluded the juror because of her equivocation about whether she could be fair and impartial.  The Chief Justice in his concurring opinion indicated that the court gives great deference to a trial judge questioning a juror as the questions are quick and spontaneous.  The Chief Justice indicated that while he would not have excluded the juror and may have asked more questions, that he did not find a reversible error in the decision to exclude the juror.

The defendant argued that if the court strikes a juror for cause improperly, the court should automatically reverse the conviction as it is a structural error in the trial, the equivalent of giving the Commonwealth and extra peremptory challenge.  The Court rejected the argument that this is the same as denying the defendant a peremptory challenge finding that the juror was presumably replaced with another fair juror.  The Court found that a defendant is not entitled to a a jury of any particular composition.

The right of confrontation is the most important and cherished right for protecting an accused‘ a right to a fair trial in the United States.  It is preserved by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Judges have spoken of the right of confrontation in the following terms:

With sexual assault cases, the Court has diminished the right of confrontation in an effort to protecting statutory privileges against the disclosure of records regarding psychiatric treatment, educational records and other type of records.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Richard Jones, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court imposed an extremely high bar on defense lawyers seeking access to records to impeach the complaining witness.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Michelle Carter’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter.  The SJC began its decision by addressing what it decided in Michelle Carter’s first appeal to the SJC referred to as Carter I.  In Carter I, the SJC held that verbal conduct alone could overcome a person’s will and rise to wanton and reckless conduct to support a conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

The SJC held that the evidence presented to the trial judge was sufficient to support a conviction.  The SJC essentially adopted the reasoning of the trial judge in the case.

Key Evidence Supporting the conviction 

In the case of Kansas v. Charles Glover, the State of Kansas is asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn a decision of the Kansas Supreme Court, finding that the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop a motor where the police had information that the registered owner did not have a valid license.  The State is arguing that the police are allowed to infer without further information that the registered owner is driving the vehicle, allowing for a lawful traffic stop.  In Massachusetts, under the case of Commonwealth v. Daramo, 762 N.E. 2d 815 (Mass. 2002), the police are allowed to infer that the registered owner is driving the vehicle.  In light of the Glover decision, Massachusetts criminal lawyers should attempt to have the Court readdress this issue as being inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution.

This inference that the registered owner is the driver is inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment and requirements of reasonable suspicion as the Kansas Supreme Court correctly found.  In requesting the United State Supreme Court to hear the case, the State of Kansas argued that the rule in a majority of jurisdictions is to allow an officer to infer that the registered owner is driving the vehicle.  You can read the filing of the Glover case on the Scotus Blog.    The State’s petition for certiorari is pending before the United States Supreme Court.

Reasoning of the Kansas Supreme Court in Glover:

In the case of Mitchell v. Wisconsin, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Wisconsin addressing the issue of whether States can have a statute allowing warrantless blood draw of an unconscious suspect.   Wisconsin and 29 other States allow warrantless blood draws of an unconscious individual as part of its implied consent laws. In the Mitchell case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a divided opinion rejecting the Fourth Amendment challenge with three judges finding that consent was implied and two finding that consent was not required under the circumstances.

Implied consent means that when someone gets their driver’s license, they agree before hand to take a breath or blood test.  In other words, the consent is given when the person obtains their driver’s license.  If a person does not take a breath or blood test, the State can impose sanctions for refusal.  You can read the filings of the Mitchell case on the Scotus Blog.

If the defendant prevails on his Constitutional argument, laws in 29 states will be deemed unconstitutional allowing blood draws for someone that is unconscious.  Seven States Courts have found that unconscious blood draw statutes under the name of implied consent are unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.  The United States Supreme Court will resolve this split in how the Fourth Amendment is interpreted.

The Massachusetts decided Commonwealth v. Davis today further defining the law as it related to OUI marijuana in Massachusetts.  The Davis decision involved the issue of when the police have probable cause to arrest someone for OUI marijuana.  

The SJC found that the judge correctly denied the motion to suppress finding that the officer’s observations met the standard of probable cause need to make an arrest.  The SJC acknowledged that it is difficult to detect impairment by marijuana since there are not validated field sobriety tests.  However, the court indicated that a judge is permitted to rely on the officer’s observations.  The SJC held that the officer can testify about the driving, the odor of marijuana and subjective observations of the individual’s appearance and condition.  The SJC noted that the testimony was that the defendant admitted to smoking, had slow coordination and difficulty focusing.  The Court contrasted the Davis case with its other decision in Commonwealth v. Daniels where the it found not reasonable suspicion when the there was no testimony that the defendant’s alertness, judgment or ability to respond promptly had been impacted.  

The Davis decision is the first case from the SJC on probable cause for OUI marijuana and the Court is likely to have to readdress this issue in future cases.  The Court declined to further extend its decision in Commonwealth v. Gerhardt to call into question the lack of studied method to determine impairment by marijuana.  

In a Massachusetts Criminal Trial, of any type, whether murder or an OUI, the verdict must be unanimous, meaning that all six jurors have to agree whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty.  If jurors cannot reach a unanimous verdict, it is called a hung jury and the Commonwealth is permitted to retry the case.  The first Bill Cosby trial ended in a hung jury. In every criminal trial, a jury should be instructed on this principal of law.  The jury misunderstood this; possibly the instruction should be simplified telling the jury directly that a conviction cannot rest on a vote of five to one or four to two.

In Commonwealth v. Dibenedetto, a trial from the Worcester District Court the jury was under the mistaken belief that only a majority was required to return a verdict.  When the judge learned of this after thanking the jurors following the verdict, he instructed them that the verdict must be unanimous.  After his reinstruction following the first verdict, the jury then again returned a guilty verdict.  

The Appeals Court held that after the verdict is recorded the verdict is final. After the verdict is rendered, the judge is precluded from inquiring into the propriety of the jurors deliberation or decision making. The Appeals Court stated that the prohibition against impeachment of a verdict is not absolute.  Juror testimony, the Court stated, can be used to show the following:  unauthorized site visits, improper communication between parties, or consideration of facts not in evidence, as well as racial bias. 

Breath test evidence has not been used in Court in Massachusetts since August of 2017.  The reasons for this was based on discovery violations that were uncovered during the 9510 Breath test litigation in Commonwealth v. Ananias.  In November 2018, Judge Brennan held a hearing to determine when breath test evidence could be used in Court following efforts of the Commonwealth to remedy its discovery violations.  Judge Brennan rejected the Commonwealth’s proposal that would have allowed it to use all breath test after August 2017 and also rejected the defense proposal that breath test evidence should not be used until the OAT becomes accredited. His decision was a victory for the defense as his seven criteria require the OAT to implement standards consistent with the scientific community and have transparency throughout their processes.  

Judge Brennan set forth seven criteria that the Commonwealth must show has been satisfied prior to continued use of breath test evidence in Court.  These seven criteria, including the following:  

  1. That the OAT has filed an application for accreditation with the ANAB that is demonstrably substantially likely to succeed; The ANAB is a national accreditation board for scientific labs that has to confirm to the ISO standards.  This will subject the OAT to annual audits and oversight by an independent entity.  

  On January 7th, Actor Kevin Spacey will be arraigned on Indecent Assault and Battery charges out of Nantucket District Court.  Spacey’s lawyers requests that his presence be waived for the arraignment due to publicity from the case.  Spacey is charged with sexual assault of a teenager in a Nantucket bar.  

Lawyers argued that Spacey’s appearance would increase the publicity from he case and potentially contaminated the jury pool.  

Definition of an Arraignment in Massachusetts Felony Charge

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