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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.

Police Brutality Lawsuit Filed Over Arrest Forceful Arrest by Buffalo Police 

Just one day into the new year, a young man in Buffalo suffered horrible injuries at the hands of a local police officer.  Tyshawn Vance, a 21-year-old, filed a lawsuit Monday in the state Supreme Court. He alleges that officers beat him so severely that he suffered permanent injuries such as vision loss. Allegedly, officers threw him to the ground and beat him during a traffic stop. The police officers allege that Vance was pulled over for speeding and having a license plate light out, hardly the infraction that would welcome violence. A video of the offense shows Vance’s eye swollen and blood smeared on the asphalt, U.S. News reports.

The police allege that Vance had a pistol and drugs, according to an article from a Buffalo local news station

In a recent case, the Third Circuit held in Levy v. Mahanoy Area School District that a profane “snap” posted by a teenage girl was protected speech under the First Amendment.  Today, any teen or young adult has grown up with Snapchat, an app that allows users to send their friends picture messages that disappear within a few seconds.  Unless you take a “screenshot” of the message, the “snap” is gone forever.  In the Levy case, student B.L.’s Snapchat resulted in her school suspending her. 

What happened in Levy?

B.L., a student at Mahoney Area High School, tried out for the cheerleading team as a rising freshman, and she made the junior varsity team.  The next year, instead of moving up to the varsity team, she remained in junior varsity.  She was frustrated and disappointed that she had not moved up to the varsity team.  The following Saturday, while spending time with friends. B.L. did what any teenager would do and took her frustrations to social media.  She sent a Snapchat with her middle fingers up with the caption “f**k school, f**k softball, f**k cheer, f**k everything.”  She posted this to her Snapchat “story,” meaning that the picture was visible to everyone on her friends list for 24 hours before disappearing from the app.  One of B.L.’s teammates took a screenshot of the story and sent it to her cheerleading coach.  As a result, B.L. was kicked off the cheerleading team. 

What is the Process to Seal a Misdemeanor?

One common questions many have after having been charged with a criminal case is how can I expunge it from my record.  In Massachusetts, the law does not allow expungements, but does allow individuals to Seal their record which accomplishes the same objective–preventing employers from seeing any entry if they run a Massachusetts CORI.

What are the Steps to Seal your record? 

The COVID-19 vaccine is out and many wonder what the legal ramification are; can you be required to take the vaccine.  As everyone is aware, the vaccine was rushed through at a record speed.  Have all the side effects of the vaccine been adequately studied?  We will not know the answer to this question for years.  Some may not want to take a vaccine quickly before it has been fully studied.

The 4th Amendment is the Constitutional provision that most directly impacts our privacy and what control the government has over our body.  I do not believe the State or Government can compel anyone to take the Vaccine and impose criminal or civil penalties; the case law allowing mandatory vaccination must allow for exceptions based on health risks and possible side effects to the person receiving the vaccine. The law could require vaccination as a condition to grant privileges , to attend school, to fly, participate in public events.

What about your job can an employer condition returning to work on vaccination?  

Leaving the Scene of Personal Injury in Massachusetts is prohibited by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90 Section 24(2)(a1/2(1).  The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently discussed in the case of Commonwealth v. Hector Rico, decided in December of 2020 what the Commonwealth would have to prove to obtain a conviction on this charge.  The issue before the Court was whether the defendant had to know there was an accident and also have knowledge that someone suffered injury.

The Appeals Court found that the Commonwealth must establish the defendant’s knowledge on both elements of the offense.

The Leaving the Scene Statute states:  Whoever operate a motor vehicle upon any way . . . And without stopping and making his known his name, residence and registration number of his motor vehicle, goes away after knowingly colliding with or otherwise causing injury to any person not result in death she be punished.

The Massachusetts SJC held today that the First Amendment Protects Panhandling as free Speech, striking down a local Fall River Ordinance attempting to preclude panhandling on public streets.  In Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless v. City of Fall River, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that a local law restriction Panhandling, stopping cars and requesting money was a content based restriction on speech and prohibited by the First Amendment.  The Fall River ordnance only prohibited Panhandling and did not prohibit solicitation for other purposes, such as school events and Fire Department fund raisers.  The SJC stated that it is clear that soliciting contributions is protected by the 1st Amendment.

The Court also staled that it is clear that public ways are traditional public forums.  This means that on the streets, people have the right to share and express their ideas.  It is why someone can hold a sign on the side of the road in support of the politician they are supporting for office.  The SJC also indicated that it was clear that the Fall River local ordinance was a content restriction on speed and had to survive strict security, meaning that the law must survive the most rigorous view to be upheld as constitutional.

The Panhandling law was a content based restriction on speech because it only regulated someone making one type of form of expression, asking for money.

The Massachusetts SJC will decide whether putting a home on AirBNB creates a duty to prevent harm that occurs on the property.  What duty of care does an AirBNB owner need to provide?

Nowadays, most of us have some sort of “side hustle.” The internet and apps make having a side hustle easier than ever. The law tends to struggle to keep up with this rapidly changing technology.  The case of  Styller v. Aylwardraises the questions of what duty of care is owed to a renter on AirBNB.

What happened in the Styller case?

Donald Trump is soon leaving office, but there is a case that the United States Supreme Court may hear concerning whether the President has a right to block people on Twitter.  Donald Trump v. Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University is a case that concerns the president blocking people on Twitter.  If we’ve learned anything these past four years, it’s that Trump loves to use his personal Twitter account.  The Obama Administration created the @POTUS account in 2015, and since then, all presidents get access to the @POTUS Twitter account when they take office.  Donald Trump has access to this account, but he overwhelmingly uses his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account that he has had since 2009.  He has continued to use his unofficial personal account while in office on the daily, sometimes posting over 100 tweets in a single day.

Like any social media user, Trump will block individuals that he does not care to associate with.   However, this novel issue begs the question;  if a public official who uses a social media account as an extension of his office—by, for example, making official announcements, inviting members of the public to respond, and allowing members of the public to communicate with one another about matters relating to government—violates the First Amendment when he ejects members of the public from that forum based on viewpoint.

Does the Public forum Doctrine precent President Trump from blocking followers?

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