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January 13, 2014

Convictions Reversed Based Upon Unlawful Police Entry Into Apartment During Execution of Arrest Warrant

Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) reversed a defendant's two convictions on the grounds that both convictions were based on evidence that was seized by the police during an illegal entry into the defendant's home to execute an arrest warrant.

In Commonwealth v. Gentile, a police trooper spoke with the defendant about one week prior to his arrest, and viewed the defendant's identification card which listed the defendant's address as an apartment in Leominster. The trooper later learned that there were two outstanding arrest warrants for the defendant. After he confirmed that the Leominster address matched the defendant's address on his driver's license, the trooper went to the apartment to execute the arrest warrants.

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December 23, 2013

Speedy Trial: A Guaranteed Right Or An "Either/Or" Choice?

On December 5, 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) heard oral arguments in Commonwealth v. Taylor, a criminal case that seeks a balance between a defendant's right to a speedy trial and his right to receive "automatic discovery" from the prosecution.

In addition to a criminal defendant's right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 36 provides that a criminal defendant must be brought to trial within twelve months of the date of his arraignment. Under the rule, some specific periods are excludable from the total calculation of the twelve months. If this right is violated, then the defendant is entitled to a dismissal of the criminal charges against him in the case.

The Massachusetts rules also require that the prosecution automatically turn over to defense counsel certain items and information that are relevant and material to the prosecution's case or to the defendant's potential defenses. Such information and items include witness statements, statements by the defendant, and other evidence collected by the prosecution in connection with the charges against the defendant.

In Taylor, the defendant was arraigned on murder charges in Suffolk Superior Court in August 2006. By the fall of 2006, the prosecution still had not turned over critical evidence that fell within the mandatory automatic discovery provisions of the Massachusetts rules. That evidence included a recording of the police interrogation of the defendant and statements by a chief witness (who the defendant claimed was actually responsible for the alleged murder), as well as seventeen audio recordings of police interviews conducted in May 2006 and the audio and transcripts of eleven witnesses who testified before a grand jury. Although the court ordered the prosecutor to produce the missing automatic discovery items, the prosecutor did not timely do so, and requested additional time. Defense counsel made clear to the prosecution and the court that, notwithstanding the prosecution's request for more time to comply with its mandatory discovery obligations, the defendant was not waiving his right to a speedy trial. The court granted the prosecution additional time, but noted that "Rule 36 will not be waived from this date until the time of compliance."

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January 25, 2013

Jail Officials Learn the Hard Way - They Can (and Will) be Sued for Violating Prisoners' Civil Rights

Enoh Johnson filed a pro se complaint against the Plymouth County Sheriff for alleged violations of his civil rights that occurred when he was detained at the Plymouth Correctional Facility. Johnson sought monetary damages, and requested appointment of counsel as well as a copy of his medical records.

Plaintiff's Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees was granted in June 2012. At this time the District Court also informed Johnson of the pleading deficiencies in his original complaint - that though he alleged he was injured by the actions of one or more correctional officers, none of these individuals were named in the complaint. Further, though the Plymouth County Sheriff was the named defendant in the complaint, the complaint made no allegations that the Sheriff was personally involved in any of the incidents described in the complaint.

Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint adding Superintendent Norton and Social Worker Smethurst as defendants.

After a preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e), the District Court held that the amended complaint could be served on defendants Norton and Smethurst. However, due to the insufficiency of the allegations against the Sheriff, the claims against him were dismissed.

The Court also denied Johnson the right to counsel. A civil plaintiff lacks a constitutional right to free counsel unless the plaintiff is indigent and exceptional circumstances exist such that denial of counsel will result in fundamental unfairness impinging on the party's due process rights. Desrosiers v. Moran, 949 F.2d 15, 23 (1st Cir. 1991). No exceptional circumstances warranting the appointment of counsel exist at this time.

In regards to the plaintiff's request for his medical records, the Court advised him to first request the records by letter. If the medical records were not forthcoming, he could formally request the documents through a subpoena.

If you or a family member has been charged with criminal activity, please contact Parker | Scheer LLP for a free consultation with one of our experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers.

October 25, 2010

Attorney Michael Sussman Represents Henry Family

Attorney for Danroy "DJ" Henry Jr., the student killed by New York state police accuses them of releasing incorrect information.

Famous civil rights attorney Michael Sussman now represents the Henry family, the parents of the Easton, MA college student killed last week by New York state police. This popular student was shot by police during an altercation outside of a bar. On October 23, 2010, New York police released information that the student had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.

Attorney Sussman is a highly-respected civil rights attorney, and has argued more than 20 cases directly to the United States Supreme Court. The Henry family is currently represented by Attorney Sussman and a lawsuit is likely to follow. Sussman maintains that the 20-year old student was sober the night of the incident, in fact he was the designated driver that night. This statement is a response to the Associated Press's report quoting an anonymous police source saying Henry's blood-alcohol concentration was 0.13, above the .08 legal limit to drive. Attorney Sussman blames the New York police for leaking this incorrect information in an attempt to cover up their mistakes. In fact, Sussman has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the case itself, to assure impartial and fair fact-finding.

The Mount Pleasant police have defended their actions as self-defense. According to the police, Henry was in the driver's seat of a parked vehicle outside of the bar. The bar was full of patrons celebrating a homecoming weekend, and a football game between Pace University and Stonehill College. When Henry was approached by police, he immediately sped off. According to reports, a police officer clung to the hood of the car, and a total of four police officers were injured in the incident.

However, student witnesses claim that Henry did not try to flee, and in fact Henry was handcuffed, injured, and did not receive medical treatment for about 15 minutes after he was shot. One of the police officers who shot Henry, Ronald Beckley, has hired Andrew Quinn, a Westchester, N.Y. attorney who has won several acquittals in police brutality cases. Quinn is also the union attorney for the New York City police sergeants. Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno vowed to conduct a full and impartial inquiry into the use of deadly force by his officers. Unfortunately, police estimate that it will take a full two to three months to wrap up a comprehensive probe into these events.

Boston Globe, October 24, 2010: Lawyer says slain student was sober

LoHud, October 20, 2010: Danroy Henry's family hires civil rights lawyer, 'seeking the truth'

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