Recently in Appeals Court Category

March 31, 2014

Appeals Court Reverses Shooting Conviction Based on Insufficient Evidence

In Commonwealth v. Lobo, the defendant was convicted of two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, after he was tried for the shootings of two brothers on Hancock Street in Brockton in 2005. At trial, the Commonwealth called only one eyewitness to testify. That witness, the victims' father, testified that he heard rapid gunshots fired while a white car was driving in front of him and his sons. He did not see a gun, a muzzle flash, or the faces of any of the people in the car. He was unable to say whether the gunshot sounds had come from the area of the white car, but assumed that they had.

The father further testified that when the white car drove away, he discovered that his sons had both been shot. He then heard the car return at a high speed and a car door open. He momentarily saw a male, who he later identified as the defendant, standing outside of the car. The father testified that he then heard two or three more shots fired, but he could not tell where those shots had come from. He never saw a gun in the defendant's possession.

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March 24, 2014

'Dangerous Weapon' Not Necessarily a 'Deadly Weapon' for Purposes of Enhanced Sentencing Statute

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a judgment against a criminal defendant who had been sentenced by a superior court judge under the sentencing enhancement provisions of the Massachusetts Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). In relevant part, the ACCA applies to any person who has been previously and in separate instances been convicted of three violent crimes, or three serious drug offenses, or any combination of violent crimes or serious drug offenses that total three. Under the ACCA, if a person with such a criminal history is found to be in unlawful possession of a firearm under the applicable Massachusetts firearms laws, he may face a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison. The statute defines a "violent crime" as, among other criteria, a crime that involved the use or possession of a "deadly weapon."

In Commonwealth v. Boyd, the defendant's adult criminal record included convictions for the unlicensed carrying of a firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition. However, the defendant also had juvenile convictions for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault by means of a dangerous weapon, and assault and battery on a public employee. In this case, the defendant was further convicted of unlawful possession of a sawed-off shotgun, unlawful possession of ammunition without a firearms identification card, unlawful possession of a loaded sawed-off shotgun, unlawful discharge of a firearm, and two counts of reckless endangerment of a child.

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February 27, 2014

SJC Holds District Court Judge Should Not Have Accepted Defendant's Guilty Plea

This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that a defendant who had pleaded guilty to resisting arrest was entitled to a new trial on the charges, where the district court judge failed to determine that a sufficient factual basis existed for the resisting arrest charge.

The SJC analyzed the applicable criminal procedure in Commonwealth v. Hart. Under Massachusetts law, a guilty plea will generally be valid if it is made voluntarily and intelligently. To be made "intelligently," one of three things must occur: (1) the judge explains the elements of the crime to the defendant; (2) the defendant's attorney explains the elements of the crime to the defendant; or (3) the defendant admits the facts constituting the crime, even if he is not aware that the facts admitted amount to a crime. In this case, both the defendant and his attorney confirmed that the attorney had discussed the charges or the nature and elements of the offense. Based upon that, the district court judge accepted the guilty plea and sentenced the defendant.

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February 17, 2014

Improper Procedure for Discharge of Deliberating Juror Results in Reversal of Guilty Verdict

Last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued an opinion in Commonwealth v. Garcia that reversed a jury's guilty verdict on the grounds that the judge did not follow appropriate procedures in discharging a juror during deliberations.

The defendant was charged with armed robbery, and the case was tried in superior court. About approximately three hours of deliberating, the jury sent a note to the judge, stating that they had not been able to come to a unanimous decision. The judge did not believe that the jury had deliberated long enough to show a deadlock, and instructed the jury to resume deliberations the following day.

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February 10, 2014

Mere Use of License Plate Cover Not Grounds for Traffic Stop

Today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Bernard, affirming the decision of a Lawrence District Court judge to suppress evidence obtained from the defendant's vehicle when a Massachusetts State Trooper pulled the defendant's vehicle over after observing a plastic cover on the vehicle's rear license plate. The decision resulted in the suppression of statements and evidence supporting firearm charges against the defendant.

In June 2009, the trooper observed the defendant operating a vehicle on Route 495 southbound. The trooper, who was traveling in the first lane, allegedly was unable to see the license plate of the defendant's vehicle, which he observed from an angle as the defendant's vehicle traveled in the third lane. The license plate was covered with a clear, but tinted, plastic cover. For this reason only, the trooper pulled up behind the defendant's vehicle and activated his cruiser lights to pull the defendant over. The trooper observed no other traffic violations.

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January 27, 2014

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel May Be Grounds for Withdrawal of Guilty Plea

Today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Almonte, discussing the standard for a criminal defendant to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

In 2005, the defendant was charged with one count of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and one count of assault and battery on a child causing injury, arising out of allegations that he had physically abused his minor daughter. Following plea discussions, the defendant and the Commonwealth agreed to plead guilty on both counts, with concurrent sentences of one-year of confinement, suspended for two years, upon certain probationary terms. The defendant and the Commonwealth submitted a "Tender of Plea" form, also known as the "green sheet," to the Lawrence District Court, outlining these terms.

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