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Articles Posted in Important SJC Decisions

Does a Zoom Trial Violate A Defendant’s Rights? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Decide. 

Criminal defendants in this country have a right to trial in front of a jury of their peers. Additionally, the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article Twelve of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights guarantees a defendant’s right to confront a witness at trial. 

However, it has been nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic, and life is just now beginning to return to normal. COVID has thrown a wrench in nearly every facet of life, including criminal trials. The case of Commonwealth v. Curran will decide whether Zoom proceedings interfere with a defendant’s rights. 

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decides Body Camera Case 

In the aftermath of the 2014 Michael Brown shooting by a law enforcement offer, police departments all across the country began to require officers to wear body cameras while on duty. Body cameras were meant to protect citizens from police misconduct. But, what if body camera footage is used against you in court? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided today Commonwealth v. Yusuf the question of whether body camera footage capturing the inside of someone’s home requires a warrant. 

What happened in the Yusuf case?

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decides Juror Discrimination Case 

During jury selection, attorneys are allowed to object to a proposed juror without giving a reason for the objection. This is called a peremptory challenge. However, attorneys throughout history have used peremptory challenges to strike jurors based on racial stereotypes. In the 1986 case of Batson v. Kentucky, the United States Supreme Court held that a prosecutor cannot use peremptory challenges to exclude jurors solely on the basis of race. 

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held Commonwealth v. Carter that it was an abuse of discretion for the trial judge not to require the prosecution to provide a race-neutral reason for its challenge of at least one Black juror. 

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. 

The Sixth Amendment promises the right to confront an adverse witness. However, when the witness is on the other end of a 911 call, this can lead to tricky constitutional issues. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will soon decide a confrontation clause issue in Commonwealth v. Rand. Hopefully, the SJC will correct an error made by the lower court regarding Rand’s right to confrontation as defendant’s in domestic assault and battery cases have seen their right to confront their accuser diminished by recent Court decisions.

What happened in the Rand case?

This case arises out of a domestic dispute. Defendant Rand and his former girlfriend Otilia Cradock are parents to a young daughter. The couple was on and off, but Rand stayed involved in his daughter’s life, so he was often at Cradock’s home. One night, Cradock and her sister spent the night drinking wine at her apartment. She started to be rude to her sister. Her sister left the apartment. At around 1 in the morning, Cradock reported to police that her boyfriend had assaulted her. She said that he had strangled her until she passed out and urinated. When the 911 operator asked if the boyfriend was still at the home, she responded that he had left.

What type of cell phone information can the police obtain without a warrant?  This is an important question under the 4th amendment that the Massachusetts Supreme Court recently addressed.  Nowadays, nobody leaves their cell-phones out of their sight, and a cell phone is almost an extension of a person’s body.  However, inside of your smartphone are powerful location tracking services, that “ping” your location whenever you are near a cell tower.  The use of this data in criminal cases is controversial, and many would consider it an invasion of privacy.  The Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a murder case involving cell site location information (CSLI) in Commonwealth v. Wilkerson.

What happened in Wilkerson?

The victim in this case was twenty-three year old Kristopher Rosa, who was a longtime rival of one of the defendant’s high school friends, Rhandisyn Lawrence.  Lawrence and the victim had a rivalry that apparently stemmed from both of them dating the same woman, Mendes, who the victim later had a child with.  In 2011, Lawrence and the defendant, Wilkerson, chased Rosa in cars when Rosa and his girlfriend were on the way to his mother’s house.  He was shot in the chest while still driving and pronounced dead from a gunshot wound.  The defendant was convicted of first degree murder of Rosa two years after the incident, when the defendant’s girlfriend called the police.

Uber and Lyft drivers are all over Massachusetts; while the number of people traveling with RideShare has certainly decreased with COVID-19, there are still a significant number of Lyft and Uber drivers on the road.  What happens if you are involved in an accident with Uber or Lyft or have a dispute with one of these companies.  Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided a case that addressed whether the arbitration provision in the Uber contract was enforceable.

Is a Contract Formed When You Create an Uber Account?

 This question was recently decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in Christopher P. Kauders & Another vs. Uber Technologies, Inc., & Another. In this case, a couple who had both downloaded Uber on their phones alleged discrimination by Uber against husband, who is legally blind, was refused an Uber ride because he was accompanied by his guard dog. Uber is a widely-used app that allows users to pay for transportation by Uber’s contracted drivers after downloading the app.

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