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Articles Posted in Important Massachusetts Court Decisions

When Can a Defendant Waive Their Right to a Jury Trial? 

Most of us know that there is a fundamental right to a jury trial. However, there is also a right to waive a jury trial. The case of Commonwealth v. Gebo is pending before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and involves a defendant who wanted to waive her right to a jury on the day of trial. 

In April of 2017, Homer Gebo was watching the news and drinking coffee in his home. His wife, the defendant, went into the kitchen. A fight ensued between them, and the defendant picked up a plastic chair and hit Mr. Gebo’s arm. Mr. Gebo grabbed the chair and threw it. The defendant then hit Mr. Gebo in the head with a ladle. He passed out for 10-12 seconds and then awoke. Confused, Mr. Gebo asked what had happened and why the defendant hit him. She told him that he had a heart attack. 

What is an “unduly suggestive” procedure in a criminal lineup?

According to the Constitution, it is a violation of Due Process if it is “unduly suggestive.” Examples of “unduly suggestive” can include things like being the only person of a certain race in a lineup, or being the only person who matches the suspect’s description. The Massachusetts Appellate Court recently decided a case that examined this issue in Commonwealth v. Travis.

What happened in the Travis case?

The Fourth Amendment is a very important right. However, it is often overshadowed by its many, many, exceptions. The Massachusetts Appellate Court recently examined a patfrisk case stemming from a motor vehicle stop. At this stop, the highly dangerous drug fentanyl was found. Fentanyl is often so potent that 3 milligrams is enough to kill a grown man. To put this into perspective, 3 milligrams of fentanyl is difficult to see with the naked eye. The Massachusetts Appellate Court looked at a motion to suppress fentanyl seized during a traffic stop in Commonwealth v. Wade

What happened in the Wade case?

Defendant Wade allegedly sped past a state trooper at 11 pm while the officer was pulled over on the side of the road conducting another stop. Wade was with four other passengers. Officers claimed that the car smelled like marijuana. In addition, the driver did not have a license or registration. Officer also said they found it suspicious that one passenger had his hood up and his hand in his pockets. The officer demanded he remove his hand from his pockets but the passenger did not. Other passengers were reaching in their pants and pockets. Wade put his hands in his waistband. The officers then pulled Wade out of the car and searched him. They found a pill bottle with the name removed. The fentanyl was found in the bottle.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Hear Police Surveillance Case 

Under the Fourth Amendment and the United States Supreme Court precedent, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy from government intrusion that all Americans enjoy. The home is one of the most sacred places when it comes to privacy. It is a place that is only subject to government intrusion with a warrant. However, what if the government intrudes into the home not physically, but by camera? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments next week in the case of Commonwealth v. Comenzo.  This case was argued on October 6, 2021.  

What happened in the case

Can a Case Based on a Photo be Decided Without the Photo? Massachusetts Appellate Court Decides. 

Photographing a nude or partially nude person in an area where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy is a crime in Massachusetts. But what if the alleged photograph is never produced at trial? The Massachusetts Appellate Court recently revisited this issue in Commonwealth v. Cooper

What happened in the Cooper case? 

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decides Admissibility of Cell Site Location Information

Cell site location information (CSLI) is a highly controversial form of evidence used in courts across the country. CSLI allows cell phone companies to give your location information to law enforcement if you are a suspect in a crime. CSLI raises many privacy and seizure issues, including an issue surrounding the right to privacy. Is CSLI too intrusive, or is it a technology that will lower rates of violent crime?

In Commonwealth v. Louis, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court released a holding that may be detrimental to future cyber-privacy rights.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decides Miranda Rights Case, Can a Person Re-Invoke Their Right to Have an Attorney Present?

Many of us know from film and television that we have the right to remain silent after being arrested. This is one part of our Miranda rights. But what happens when we revoke those rights and then attempt to re-invoke them? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court examined this issue in Commonwealth v. Edward Gonzalez.

What happened in the Gonzalez case?

Many cities across the country use unreliable measures to justify racially motivated, unconstitutional, stops and searches disguised as a traffic stop. In Commonwealth v. Bailey-Sweeting, the Supreme Judicial Court has the opportunity to make one of these incidents right.

Despite the Black population of New Bedford making up just 7% of the city’s population, Black people accounted for 46% of those subjected to police field incidents since 2020. New Bedford has cracked down on suspected gang activity in recent years, and the racial disparities appear here as well. Nearly 1 in 10 Black males living in New Bedford are labeled as verified gang members by the city.

What happened in the Bailey-Sweeting case?

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decides Parent-Child Testimony Privilege

In Massachusetts evidence law, there are limits on who may give testimony in various civil and criminal proceedings. One set of limitations is found in a Massachusetts statute that applies to the testimony of a parent or minor child against another in a criminal, delinquency, and youthful offender proceedings where the victim is not a family member and does not reside in the household. But can a parent testify against their own child? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Eli Vigiani, which asks the question of whether under Massachusetts law, a parent is disqualified from being called to testify in their child’s defense at an evidentiary hearing for a motion to suppress. 

This case concludes that while Massachusetts law prevents the prosecution from calling in the child’s parents to testify against the child, it does allow for the child to call in their parents as a witness for their defense, and in turn, the state is permitted to cross-examine the parents. 

Massachusetts Court of Appeals Decides a Classroom Death Threat Case 

In the years following the 1999 Columbine shootings, the United States has seen approximately 284 mass shootings in schools across the country. Due to this tragic fact, threats of violence in schools are taken very seriously. 

In a recent decision by the Massachusetts Court of Appeal in Commonwealth v. Leonardo, the court answered the question of whether a juvenile’s threat to kill his teacher was protected as free speech. 

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