Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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At issue was whether the holding in Commonwealth v. Newton N., also decided today, that where a prosecutor wishes to proceed to arraignment on a delinquency complaint supported by probable cause, a juvenile may not dismiss the complaint before arraignment on the grounds that dismissal is in the best interests of the child and in the interests of justice, also limits judicial authority to dismiss a delinquency complaint brought by a private party under Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 218, 35A, where a clerk-magistrate issued the complaint after finding probable cause. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the limitation set forth in Newton N. applies only where the prosecutor has affirmatively adopted the private party’s complaint by moving for arraignment, rather than simply appearing at the scheduled arraignment; and (2) where the prosecutor has not moved for arraignment, a judge considering a juvenile’s motion to dismiss before arraignment may consider whether the clerk-magistrate appropriately exercised sound discretion in issuing the complaint and, in so doing, may consider whether dismissal is in the best interest of the child and in the interests of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Orbin O." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal from the Juvenile Court’s grant of a prearrangement motion to dismiss a delinquency complaint, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) a judge, in weighing whether the information contained within the four corners of the complaint application and attached exhibits establishes probable cause, may not consider whether a juvenile was criminally responsible for the charged offenses or whether the juvenile’s mental impairment rendered the juvenile incapable of having the requisite criminal intent; and (2) where a prosecutor proceeds to arraignment on a delinquency complaint supported by probable cause, the judge may not dismiss the complaint prior to arraignment on the grounds that dismissal of the complaint is in the best interests of the child and in the interests of justice. The Supreme Judicial Court held that, in this case, the dismissal of the delinquency complaint before arraignment was improper because the complaint was supported by probable cause and the prosecutor wished to proceed to arraignment. The court vacated the order of dismissal and remanded the matter to the Juvenile Court. View "Commonwealth v. Newton N." on Justia Law

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Where an individual has been released on bail pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58 and there is probable cause to believe the individual committed a crime while released on bail, the Commonwealth may seek to revoke bail under either Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58 or Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 58B. The judge must then make a determination as to whether the Commonwealth satisfied the requirements of either section 58 or section 58B, under which it sought to revoke bail. Here, the judge found probable cause to believe that a juvenile had committed a crime while released on bail under section 58. The juvenile argued that the judge erred in applying the ninety-day revocation period under section 58B. Specifically, the juvenile argued that the statutes create an ambiguous bit revocation framework, and therefore, the rule of lenity requires the applicable of the sixty-day revocation period under section 58. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) the bail revocation scheme is not ambiguous in its current form, and therefore, the rule of lenity does not apply; and (2) revoking bail under section 58B where an individual has been released on bail pursuant to section 58 and subsequently commits a crime while on release, does not violate due process. View "Josh J. v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice denying Petitioner’s petition filed under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 arguing that when the Commonwealth seeks to indict a juvenile, the grand jury must be instructed on the basic differences between juvenile and adult brains. Petitioner based his argument on the court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Walczak, 463 Mass. 808 (2012), which requires that a grand jury be instructed on the elements of murder and the significance of mitigating circumstances and defenses when the Commonwealth seeks to indict a juvenile for murder. The single justice denied the petition without a hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner’s arguments in support of his petition were unavailing. View "Cepeda v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice of the court denying Petitioner’s petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 arguing that because he had been “lawfully committed to the Department of Youth Services” at the time he committed the crime of murder, he was entitled to a transfer hearing pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, 61, which was then in effect. The single justice concluded that Petitioner was not entitled to a transfer hearing because, when the murder occurred in 1995, a seventeen-year-old was an adult in the eyes of the juvenile and criminal law. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) because a seventeen-year-old was not, at the relevant time, considered a “child,” the juvenile court did not have jurisdiction over the matter; and (2) the fact that Petitioner had previously been committed to the Department was of no relevance because Petitioner would not have been subject to the juvenile court’s jurisdiction in any event. View "Elliot v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The phrase “serious bodily harm” in the youthful offender statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, 54 contemplates harm to human beings, not animals. A grand jury returned two youthful offender indictments against Juvenile, charging him with cruelty to animals and bestiality. The juvenile court allowed Juvenile’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the phrase “serious bodily harm” in the youthful offender statute refers only to human victims. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the “serious bodily harm” referenced in the statute does not apply to animals, and therefore, Juvenile’s conduct did not meet the requirements of the statute. View "Commonwealth v. J.A." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the county court denying, without a hearing, a juvenile’s petition for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. The juvenile was charged with making a bomb threat. A judge in the juvenile court arraigned the juvenile under the belief that she lacked authority to consider a motion to dismiss the complaint prior to arraignment. Upon reconsideration, the judge determined that she did have authority to dismiss before arraignment, vacated the arraignment of the juvenile, and directed the probation department to expunge the juvenile court’s activity record information. Thereafter, the judge again reversed herself, reinstated the juvenile’s arraignment and vacated the expungement order. The juvenile sought relief from this interlocutory ruling pursuant to this Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circumstances of this case did not entitle the juvenile as a matter of right to invoke the court’s extraordinary power under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. View "Benjamin B. v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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One year ago, in Deal v. Commissioner of Correction, 475 Mass. 307 (2016) (Deal I), the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the procedure used by the Department of Correction to determine the security classification of juvenile homicide offenders violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, 72B, as amended by St. 2014 ch. 189, 2, which prohibits the Department from categorically barring juvenile homicide offenders from being placed in minimum security facilities. Since then, the Department has developed a modified process for classifying juvenile homicide offenders. Petitioners - juvenile homicide offenders who were also petitioners in Deal I - challenged that modified process in this case. The Supreme Court held that, after applying the holding in Deal I, the Department continued to fall short of the requirements of section 72B where the Department’s written explanations for blocking the majority of objectively qualifying juvenile homicide offenders from placement in a minimum security facility do not go far enough to ensure that the classification procedure is actually individualized and that no juvenile homicide offender is categorically barred from classification to a minimum security facility. View "Deal v. Commissioner of Correction" on Justia Law

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A juvenile, who has been indicted as a youthful offender, is not entitled as of right to interlocutory review of a denial of a motion to dismiss that indictment. The grand jury returned a youthful offender indictment against Juvenile, charging her with rape of a child. Juvenile moved to dismiss the indictment for lack of probable cause. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the juvenile court judge’s order denying the motion to dismiss, holding (1) Juvenile is not entitled to interlocutory review under these circumstances, but, nevertheless, the court exercises its discretion to reach the merits of the petition; and (2) the youthful offender portion of the indictment was not sufficiently supported by probable cause. View "N.M. v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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A juvenile who has been convicted of murder in the first degree, and whose conviction has been affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court after plenary review, is thereafter subject to the gatekeeper provision of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. Defendant was convicted in 1995 of murder in the first degree. Defendant was seventeen years old when the killing occurred and was considered an adult for purposes of the criminal proceedings. In 2013, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial. A judge denied the motion but resentenced Defendant to life with the possibility of parole because Defendant was under the age of eighteen at the time of the killing. Thereafter, Defendant filed an application pursuant to the gatekeeper provision of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E seeking leave to appeal the denial of his motion for a new trial. At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was whether Defendant was subject to the gatekeeper provision since he was no longer sentenced to the most severe sentence recognized in Massachusetts. The court answered that the gatekeeper provision applied to defendants who, like Defendant in this case, have had a direct appeal, have received plenary review, and remain convicted of murder in the first degree. View "Commonwealth v. James" on Justia Law