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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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