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Articles Posted in criminal trials

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in the case of Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter yesterday.  In this Blog, I have outlined some of the key issues that the SJC addressed during the oral argument.

Was there sufficient evidence to convict Carter of involuntary manslaughter?  

The defense lawyer argued that the key pieces of evidence is the defendant’s text from two months after where she told a friend that she told him to get back into the truck.  The defense contended that that text message was part of very long and rambling texts so that to use a text as the basis to find her guilty was not supported by sufficient evidence.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will address a case that will have an important impact on the way juries are formulated in Massachusetts.  The case is Commonwealth v. Quinton Williams, where a judge allowed the prosecutor to excuse for cause a juror that stated that Black American are treated unfairly by the judicial system.  The SJC allowed for direct appellate review in the case.

  The case was a drug distribution charge out of the Brockton District Court.    The juror answered the judge’s question as follows after the judge asked if the juror has an bias in the case. The juror responded as follows:  

I work with low-income youth in a school setting; I work a lot with teenagers who are convicted of drug crimes.  And frankly, I think the system is rigged against young African Americans.  The juror said that the views could be put from the juror’s mind after asked by the judge.  The juror indicated that the opinion would not impact the ability to be fair and impartial.  

Jury selection is a critical part of any criminal trial in Massachusetts.  In Massachusetts, the rules have changed allowing greater attorney participation in jury selection.  The new rules permit Attorney conducted voir dire.  However, the judge still determines whether an individual shall be excluded for cause from a jury.  There are two ways to exclude a potential juror from sitting on a jury.  The first is through a challenge for cause.  This is a request by one of the attorney to exclude a juror based on the fact that the lawyer believes that the juror cannot be fair and impartial. 

For example, in an OUI trial, a judge may exclude a juror for cause that has been in an accident with someone thought to be under the influence of alcohol.  This would be based on the fact that the juror’s experience may bias the juror against the defense.  Some judges may try to rehabilitate the juror to keep the juror on the panel by asking if the juror can set aside that experience and still be fair and impartial.  A judge should allow a defense lawyer to ask follow up questions to determine if the experience is so ingrained that it would start the defendant off at a disadvantage with respect to this juror. 

A recent case decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court addressed the issue of when a judge abuses his discretion for not excluding a juror for cause.  The case was Commonwealth v. Chambers, decided on August 29,2018.  

A Florida pre-teen was found dead in her home in Glades, Florida on January 10. The alleged culprits in the case, two middle-schoolers, are facing cyberstalking charges after one of their classmates, Gabriella Green, took her own life after being harassed on the internet through various social media platforms.

Cyberbullying, as defined by the United State Government, is bullying that takes place using electronic technology.  Essentially, the term “cyberbullying” describes the act of harassing, threatening or intimidating another individual via electronic means such as by use of cell phones, computers, tablets, and social media platforms.

Cyberbullying is illegal in Florida as well as in states across the country and can result in criminal charges. Generally speaking, cyberbullying is a crime most prominent among young adults, teenagers, and preteens. It is a crime of the generation; social media platforms are becoming increasingly popular “weapons” for teenagers to bully one another.

The New York State Supreme Court Justice Andrew Ceresia recently ruled that prosecutors are not allowed to introduce Google location services as evidence into the second degree murder trial of Johnny Oquendo. In the ruling, Ceresia highlighted that prosecutors ultimately “failed to meet their burden” when exemplifying that Google location services is accepted in the relevant scientific community.

Prosecutors had originally wanted to introduce evidence from the Oquendo’s cellphone from the night of the murder, arguing that the location services on his phone could pinpoint where the defendant was throughout that night. Oquendo’s defense attorney William Roberts asked the judge to hold a hearing in regards to the evidence.

The hearing was held on October 16, 2017; prosecutors called two witnesses to the stand, an FBI Special Agent Michael Sabric and a records custodian for Google, Sarah Rodriquez. While the witnesses presented by the state were qualified to offer opinions on the google technology, the judge argued, there simply was not any reference to how the technology itself has gained acceptance in the scientific community.

Gun charges against a Holden man were recently dismissed as the Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the search warrant that was issued lacked probable cause and was ultimately invalid. This comes after the defendant Steven Mora filed a motion to suppress the fruits of the search, which uncovered a handgun, a magazine, and ammunition, arguing that the search warrant lacked probable cause.

The legal standard for issuing a search warrant is probable cause. To establish said probable cause, the police must submit an affidavit establishing facts surrounding the case and a clerk magistrate will conclude whether to not the items that the police are requesting the warrant for are related to the criminal activity that is under investigation. The defendant, Steven Mora, argued that the search warrant for the safe was improperly issued and the affidavit prepared by the Worcester Police Department failed to establish the necessary probable cause. The police were conducting surveillance in an area known to police for frequent drug transactions, when they observed the defendant approach a drug-dealer and make what they believed to be an illegal purchase.

Mora, the drug dealer, and an unidentified woman entered a car and eventually left the parking lot; shortly after the police pulled over the vehicle and conducted a pat-frisk of Mora and a inventory search of the vehicle. The search led to the discovery of a small safe in the backseat of the vehicle which the police confiscated. Because the police did some research and uncovered that firearms are typically stored in a similar safe to the one found in the backseat, the police prepared & presented an affidavit to the clerk magistrate. The affidavit clearly established probable cause that drug transactions did occur, but the affidavit, argued the defendant, did not connect the drug dealing or any other criminal activity to the safe found in the defendant’s motor vehicle.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled last Thursday to uphold the conviction of the Brockton man who killed a woman in a fatal car crash and injured nearly 8 others. In its decision, the court stated that the defendant should have known he was creating a strong likelihood of death of another person based on his mere actions; he led the police on a high-speed chase during rush hour through a busy area of town, and committed multiple major traffic infractions before ultimately running the red light at the intersection where Marianne Kotsipoulos was killed. The judge concluded the evidence was sufficient to prove a third prong theory of malice and therefore upheld the second degree murder conviction.

Following his conviction of second degree murder in 2014, Antwoin Moore moved to reduce the second degree murder verdict to a lesser offense, citing that the Commonwealth failed to prove the third prong of malice.

At the time of the incident, detectives of the Brockton Police Department were conducting a narcotics investigation, when they noticed a Chevrolet Trailblazer fail to stop at a marked stop sign. The detectives activated their blue lights, and the driver of the Trailblazer later identified as Antwoin Moore, fled the area; officers noting that the car was swerving in and out of lanes at a high rate of speed. The chase ultimately led to a major car accident at a Brockton intersection, where Marianne Kotsipoulos was killed as a result.

Judge Lawrence Moniz has found Michelle Carter Guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter after bench trial in Taunton Juvenile Court. Judge Moniz held that Ms. Carter’s actions and failure to act caused the death of Conrad Roy III.

Judge Moniz’s decision seemed to hinge on the text Carter had sent to her friend Sam Boardman which stated “Sam, Conrad’s death is my fault like honestly I could have stopped him I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I f—— told him to get back in Sam because I knew he would do it all over again the next day and I couldnt have him live the way he was living anymore I couldnt do it I wouldnt let him,”.

The Judge held that Carter’s statements, urging Mr. Roy to get back into his car, were wanton and reckless and that these statements created a situation where there was a high degree of likelihood that Mr. Roy would suffer death or serious injury. Judge Moniz further stated that when Carter told Mr. Roy to get back into the car she created a dangerous, likely deadly situation, and by creating the deadly situation, Carter had a duty to alleviate that danger. By failing to tell Roy to get out of the car or call for help she caused Mr. Roy’s death. The Judge cited Mr. Roy’s prior suicide attempt, where he had reached out to a friend who counseled him not to go through with it and contrasted that with Carter’s actions telling him to get back in the car.

As the Michelle Carter trial continues this week, her defense team presented expert witnesses; Dr. Peter Breggin took the stand testifying in regards to his knowledge on the effects felt by juveniles whom are prescribed antidepressants. This comes after the defense had their motion to dismiss the case, for lack of credible evidence, denied. A witness for the defense, Dr. Breggin has frequently testified in court cases, roughly 90 times since the 1980’s, and is commonly known for his opposition of anti-depressant medications.

For roughly four hours, Dr. Breggin described Michelle Carter as a person always willing to offer a helping hand who underwent changes after being prescribed the well known antidepressant Prozac and subsequently Celexa. Dr. Breggin painted a picture of a young adult who simply was suffering from the side effects of the medication she was placed on, noting that antidepressants, such as the medications listed above, have the ability to affect impulse control. He also pointed out some of the warnings, in plain view, on the side of the Celexa medication bottle itself; warnings such as potential for an increased risk of suicide for those taking the medicine.

After first being prescribed Prozac, Breggin noted that it was evident to Carters loved ones that she was becoming increasingly more vulnerable. He gave his expert opinion, citing the many common side effects patients that take similar drugs commonly feel. Prozac was the first medication that was prescribed to Carter whom later switched her medications in July of 2014. After switching her medication to Celexa, Carter began to exhibit more apathy, but this apathy was also coupled with bursts of anger and mania. Dr. Breggin highlighted the drugs effect on the frontal lobe, specifically in young adults, noting that the drug may negatively impact her ability to make proper choices and to fully understand the consequences of such choices.

After prosecutors rested their arguments in the Michelle Carter case, Judge Lawrence Moniz  denied the defenses motion to declare her not guilty based on the evidence or lack therof.  Carter, a young woman from Plainville Massachusetts is currently on trial for convincing her high school boyfriend to commit suicide in 2014; prosecutors arguing that Carter persuaded her boyfriend to take his own life, an act that would not have been possible without the influence of his then-girlfriend Michelle Carter.

The Judge did not give a reasoning in regards to the denial of the motion, but with the motion for required finding denied, the defense team will be putting on their own case.  A motion for required finding is a relatively easy hurdle for a prosecutor to satisfy as all of the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth.  It is only when viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, and finding that no reasonable juror or judge in this case, could find the essential elements of the case proven that the motion be be allowed.

Carter’s defense team argued that there is simply insufficient evidence that Michelle Carter actually caused her boyfriend to take his life; the defense has argued from the start of the trial that this is a suicide case.

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