Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Juvenile

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high-school-woes-1173688-mAccording to an article in the MetroWest Daily News, a group of ten freshman and sophomore students got into a “brawl” at Framingham High School last week. School officials stated that they did not know what led to the fight and insisted that there was no longstanding feud between the students who were involved. Four of the students were injured, including one who was taken to the hospital to the hospital as a precaution. A Framingham police officer indicated that the police were reviewing surveillance footage as well as cell phone videos taken by others in an attempt to determine who or what caused the fight. Although criminal charges have not yet been issued, the police department indicated that the incident was still under investigation and that “it could possibly lead to criminal charges.”

If the students are indeed criminally charged, it seems likely that they will be charges of simple assault and battery under G. L. c. 265, 13A, as the article makes no mention of any weapons being used. For the Commonwealth is issue charges and ultimately convict the student(s) for assault and battery, it would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) that the student(s) touched the person of the alleged victim(s) without having any right or excuse for doing so; (2) that the student(s) intended to touch the alleged victim(s); and (3) that the touching was either likely to cause bodily harm to the alleged victim(s) or was done without the alleged victim or victims’ consent. The touching must be intentional in the sense that the student(s) consciously and deliberately intended the touching to occur and that it was not merely accidental or negligent. However, the student(s) need not specifically have intended to cause injury to the alleged victim(s).

While the details of the incident are still not entirely clear, it seems the Commonwealth may have difficulty proving its case. Assuming that this was a mutual fight in that the students were all fighting against one another, as opposed to certain parties simply being assaulted and certain parties doing the assaulting, all of the students involved would presumably be cross-complainants and have 5th Amendment privileges against self-incrimination. Continue reading →

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cell-phone-959697-mIn a recent decision, Commonwealth v. Smith, the Supreme Judicial Court extended the “interested adult” rule applies to seventeen-year-old defendants. Under the United States Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of rights, the police must provide a suspect with Miranda warnings prior to questioning the suspect if the suspect is (1) in custody – meaning a reasonable person in his or her shoes would not feel free to leave; and (2) the police know or should know that the questioning is likely to elicit an incriminating response. The police must warn the suspect that:

  • s/he has the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions;
  • Anything s/he says may be used him/her in a court of law;
  • s/he has the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning; and
  • If s/he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed before any questioning if s/he desires

If the suspect then chooses to waive these rights and make a statement to the police, that statement may be admissible against the suspect in the event s/he is charged and prosecuted. When it comes to juvenile suspects, however, the police must take an additional step before such a waiver is considered to be valid. Specifically, the SJC has stated that the “circumstances and techniques of custodial interrogation which pass constitutional muster when applied to a normal adult” may not be “constitutionally tolerable” when applied to a juvenile. Thus, while juveniles may make an effective waiver of their Miranda rights, “special caution” must be taken in determining the validity of the waiver. The SJC has recognized that there are unique problems that arise with respect to waiver when the suspect is a juvenile, and therefore Massachusetts has adopted an “interested adult” rule regarding confessions. Under this rule, the Commonwealth must show that a parent or interested adult was present, understood the warnings, and had the opportunity to explain the rights to the juvenile so that s/he understands the significance of the waiver. Continue reading →

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jail-979240-mOn December 24, 2014, in Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District I, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that all life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders, whether mandatory or discretionary, violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under Article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. This decision went beyond current federal law, which holds that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment, but states that judges still have the discretion to impose such sentences following a hearing to determine whether life-without-parole is appropriate.

On March 23, 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court issued another decision, Diatchenko v. District for the Suffolk District II/Commonwealth v. Roberio, which addressed several questions “concerning how the opportunity for release on parole will be protected for juvenile homicide offenders” in Massachusetts. The decision specifically addresses three questions reported to the full SJC by the single justice regarding this issue. The SJC concluded that juvenile offenders convicted of homicide, sentenced to life, and seeking parole must have access to counsel, access to funds for counsel and expert witnesses if they are indigent, and an opportunity for judicial review of the parole board’s decision on their parole applications when they petition for release.

The Court explained that counsel must be provided to these juvenile offenders because “[a]n unrepresented … juvenile homicide offender will likely lack the skills and resources to [adequately] gather, analyze, and present” the “complex and multifaceted issues” involved in a parole hearing. The Court ordered that if an offender seeking parole is indigent, the public defender’s office – the Committee for Public Counsel Services – should provide representation.

In relation to the Court’s ruling that an indigent juvenile offender convicted of homicide must have access to funds to procure expert witnesses, the SJC explained that a psychologist or other expert may be crucial in explaining to the parole board the recent “scientific research on adolescent brain development [which] has revealed ‘myriad significant ways that this development impacts a juvenile’s personality and behavior,’ some of which suggest decreased moral culpability for certain juvenile homicide offenders or indicate a greater potential for them to mature to a point where they no longer engage in the behaviors that led to their crimes.” Continue reading →

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security-fence-4-1398073-m-1Twenty years ago, a young man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime – felony murder – that was committed when he was seventeen years old. At the time of the crime, the defendant and a friend got into a car with three other men. The five drove around Brockton before the defendant’s friend told the driver of the car to stop at a house so that he and the defendant could rip off drug dealers that they thought lived there. When the defendant and his friend got back to the car, the friend told the driver to drive to a nearby park. Without a word, the friend shot the driver and the other two men in the car.  One of the three survived by pretending to be dead and later identified the defendant’s friend as the shooter. The defendant told police he knew of the drug rip off, but did not know that his friend planned to shoot anyone and stated that the friend “just snapped.” The defendant and his friend were ultimately convicted of first-degree murder and both were sentenced to life in prison.

At the time of their conviction, Massachusetts judges were required to sentence defendants as young as fourteen to life in prison with no possibility of parole if they were convicted of first degree murder.  Given the state of the law, the defendant went to prison with no reasonable hope that he would ever get out.  Despite that fact, he signed up and participated in every educational and therapeutic program available to him.  He also found a way to avoid any trouble or disciplinary tickets, which are issued for any failure to follow prison rules and regulations, including such minor infractions as taking too long in the shower. Prison life is extremely difficult and often violent – so much so that it is almost impossible for young prisoners to avoid conflict and thereby receive at least some sort of disciplinary citation. the defendant, however, managed to do so.

This past December, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to declare life without the possibility of parole sentences unconstitutional for juveniles. Specifically, in 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that it was unconstitutional to sentence defendants to life sentences without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles. The Court’s decisions was based largely on the growing scientific evidence that young brains are not as equipped as adult brains to control violent impulses and understand the consequences of rash behavior. The Miller decision led the Supreme Judicial Court to issue a similar ruling in December of 2013: Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District. The Diatchenko decision held that Massachusetts law imposing a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for juveniles violated both the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and the analogous provision of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights set forth in Article 26. Continue reading →

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barbed-wire-1390182-mThis past Tuesday, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision in Commonwealth v. Watts. The decision held that the Raise the Age legislation, which raised the age of defendants who could be charged in adult court from seventeen to eighteen, is not retroactive, and therefore does not apply to cases that were pending at the time the law was enacted on September 18, 2013.

The Watts decision addressed two cases involving seventeen year old defendants that were charged prior to the enactment of the Raise the Age legislation, but whose cases were pending at the time the law was passed. After the passage of the law, both of the defendants moved to dismiss the charges against them on the ground that the District Court no longer had jurisdiction over them because they were seventeen years of age at the time the alleged offenses occurred and when the criminal proceedings began. The respective trial court judges denied the motions and both of the defendants filed for further appellate review.

In making its decision, the SJC noted that, under G. L. c. 4, § 6 and other applicable case law, a newly enacted statute is presumptively prospective – meaning that it only applies to charges brought after the enactment of the statute. There are only two exceptions to this rule – where solely prospective application would: (1) be inconsistent with the “manifest intent” of the legislature; or (2) be “repugnant to the context of the same statute.”

As to the first exception, the presumption of prospective application is inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature if the legislature includes a clearly expressed intent for the statute to apply retroactively. The SJC found, however, that there was no such clearly expressed intent in the Raise the Age legislation. The Court pointed to the language of the legislation, which states both that “no criminal proceeding shall be begun against any person who prior to his eighteenth birthday commits an offense against the laws of the commonwealth . . . without first proceeding against him as a delinquent child,” and that the legislation “shall take effect upon its passage” (September 18, 2013).

The Court stated that, when the provisions were read together, the act provides that on and after the act’s passage on September 18, 2013, criminal proceedings may not be begun in the Superior Court or in the District Court against juveniles who were seventeen years of age at the time of the alleged offense. Therefore, the act only protects juveniles who are seventeen years of age and who are charged with committing a crime on or after September 18, 2013, and juveniles who were seventeen years of age at the time of an alleged offense committed before September 18, 2013, but who had not been charged until on or after September 18, 2013.

The Court found that there was no language in the Raise the Age legislation that indicated that it should be applied retroactively to cases involving juveniles who were seventeen years of age at the time of the alleged offense and whose criminal cases in the Superior or District Court were pending on September 18, 2013. Continue reading →

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hammer-to-fall-673264-m.jpgOn December 24, 2013, in Commonwealth v. Diatchenko, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that all life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders, whether mandatory or discretionary, violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under Article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. This decision went beyond current federal law, laid out in Miller v. Alabama, which holds that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment, but states that judges still have the discretion to impose such sentences following a hearing to determine whether life-without-parole is appropriate. Following the decision, the SJC issued a ruling in Commonwealth v. Brown, which lays out the sentencing scheme that should be applied to juveniles in light of Diatchenko.

Brown was charged with shooting and killing his friend on June 20, 2009. At the time of the shooting, Brown was just seventeen years old. On June 25, 2012, while Brown was still awaiting trial, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the decision in Miller. Brown was tried in August 2012 and convicted of murder in the first degree. Following the conviction, the sentence that the trial judge could impose was unclear. Under G. L. c. 265, § 2, all defendants over the age of fourteen who are convicted of murder in the first degree must be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In light of the Miller decision, however, the trial court judge was not legally allowed to impose a mandatory sentence of life-without-parole on a juvenile. The Commonwealth filed a petition for review of the issue by the SJC. Brown’s sentencing was stayed until the SJC issued a decision.

In its review, the SJC first addressed whether Brown is entitled to the benefit of the law established under Miller and Diatchenko and concluded that the rulings laid out in the cases should be applied to Brown. The Court reasoned that new law must be applied to prosecutions that are not yet final at the time the new law is established, and that Brown’s conviction was not yet final because he had not been sentenced.

The Court then went on to discuss what sentence the trial court judge could impose in light of Miller and Diatchenko. Both the Commonwealth and Brown’s attorney made arguments to the trial court judge regarding this issue. The Commonwealth took the position that the court had the authority to sentence Brown to life in prison without the possibility of parole on a discretionary basis. Further, The Commonwealth argued that if the judge declined to impose a sentence of life without parole, the court still had the authority to impose a sentence of life, and set the minimum term that the defendant must serve before parole eligibility – for example, the court could determine that the defendant should serve at least thirty years before becoming eligible for parole. Brown’s attorney took the position that the court had the authority to sentence Brown to less than a life sentence, such as twenty years, because of the ruling in Miller.

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u-s--supreme-court-building-washington-dc-658248-m.jpgOn December 24, 2013, in Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the imposition of life without parole sentences on juveniles is unconstitutional. Diatchenko was convicted of first-degree murder for killing a man in 1981, when Diatchenko was just seventeen. At that time, all seventeen year olds accused of a crime were treated as adults, therefore Diatchenko was tried as an adult. Further, under G. L. c. 265, § 2, a first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Therefore, following the conviction, Diatchenko was sentenced to life without parole. Diatchenko subsequently appealed the conviction. The appeal included the claim that his sentence violated the 8th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, all of which prohibit cruel and unusual punishment. Diatchenko’s conviction was reviewed by the SJC and was ultimately affirmed, becoming final.

Thirty years later, however, on June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Miller v. Alabama. Miller held that mandatory life sentences for defendants who committed crimes when they were under the age of eighteen are illegal because they violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In light of the Miller decision, Diatchenko filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of his sentence under G. L. c. 265, § 2, and seeking a declaration that Article 26 categorically bars the imposition of a sentence of life without parole for offenders who were under the age of eighteen when they committed first-degree murder.

In deciding Diatchenko’s petition, the SJC first addressed whether the rule set out in Miller is retroactive – i.e., whether the rule should apply to convictions that became final prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller. The SJC acknowledged that a new constitutional rule is not generally retroactive, but went on to state that there are two recognized exceptions to this rule. First, a new constitutional rule is retroactive if the rule is “substantive,” meaning that the rule prohibits a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of the defendants’ status, or the offense. Second, a new rule is retroactive if the rule implicates an issue of fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.

Bearing these exceptions in mind, the SJC concluded that rule set forth in Miller is substantive because it explicitly bars the imposition of a certain category of punishment – mandatory life without the possibility of parole – on a specific class of defendants – those under the age of eighteen at the time the offense was committed. Therefore, the SJC determined that the Miller rule should be applied retroactively to ensure that juvenile offenders “do not face a punishment that our criminal law cannot constitutionally impose on them.”

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justice-srb-1-1040136-m.jpgFor a criminal charge to issue against an individual, a police officer must submit an application to the court for a criminal complaint. The application includes the alleged facts and the charges sought. A clerk magistrate then reviews the application to determine whether there is a sufficient basis for the complaint to issue. The specific legal standard is whether the information presented to the clerk magistrate establishes probable cause to believe that the individual committed a particular crime. If the clerk magistrate finds that there is probable cause, the complaint issues and the individual charged is brought to court and is arraigned on the charges.
An arraignment essentially consists of the court notifying the person of the charges, a plea of not guilty entering, and a bail argument. Once a person has been arraigned, the charge is entered onto the person’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) or, in the case of juveniles, Court Activity Record Information (CARI). Following the arraignment, the case proceeds through the pre-trial process, and ultimately to some sort of resolution, such as a trial, a dismissal, or a plea. The pre-trial process may include a motion to dismiss on the ground that the application for the complaint lacked sufficient probable cause, and therefore the clerk magistrate should not have issued the complaint.

When a motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause is brought, the judge must review the information presented to the clerk magistrate and make his or her own determination as to whether the information was sufficient to establish probable cause. Even where a person wins a motion to dismiss, however, the charge remains on the person’s CORI or CARI. Further, although public access to a person’s CORI/CARI is limited, certain institutions, such as courts, public housing authorities, and certain employers, do have access to CORI/CARI information. Therefore, institutions with such access are able to see that a person has been charged with a crime, including the specific charge, even if the charges are ultimately dismissed for lack of probable cause.

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brownies-three-664593-s.jpgTwo students at Framingham High School showed up at the nurse’s office on Monday, October 7th. They were not there, however, for the typical stomachache or sore throat – these students had apparently eaten pot brownies and become ill as a result. According to an article in the Metrowest Daily News, the students had bought the brownies that morning from a fellow classmate. The students ate the brownies just before homeroom and showed up in the nurse’s office a short time later. After the students’ complaints, police were notified and initiated an investigation. The classmate allegedly responsible for selling the brownies is sixteen years old and is therefore considered to be a juvenile. The juvenile’s name was not released but police did state that it was a female in her senior year. After the police arrived on scene to investigate, they searched the juvenile’s bag and reportedly found a total of eight more brownies. They also spoke to the juvenile, who admitted to selling the brownies, and stated that she had made them after finding a recipe online. The juvenile is now facing charges of distributing marijuana, and for having drugs on a school campus.

Fortunately for the juvenile, the Commonwealth may have some trouble introducing her statements, and the brownies, against her at trial. If the juvenile was in “custody” at the time of the police questioning- i.e., if a reasonable person in her position would not have felt free to leave – the police were required to give her Miranda warnings before speaking with her. When an investigation involves an adult suspect, simply providing the person with her Miranda warnings is sufficient. If the suspect agrees to waive her rights and speak with the police, the police are free to ask questions.

When it comes to juveniles, however, the laws are different – the scope of Miranda is broader. The Supreme Judicial Court has recognized that there are special problems when dealing with juveniles and Miranda waivers. The Court has specifically recognized that juveniles’ ability to understand Miranda waivers is limited and that juveniles cannot be compared to adults, who are presumably in full possession of their senses and knowledgeable of the consequences of their admissions. In light of this, juveniles who are suspected of a crime have additional protections to ensure that they understand the ramifications of waiving Miranda. Such additional protections include the Interested Adult Rule, which states that there should ordinarily be a “meaningful consultation” with a parent, interested adult, or attorney about whether the juvenile should waive her Miranda rights prior to speaking with the police.

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stock-photo-12689293-prisoner-s-arms-resting-on-cell-bars.jpgOn September 18, 2013, Governor Deval Patrick signed An Act Expanding Juvenile Jurisdiction into law. Before this law was signed, all seventeen year olds accused of a crime in Massachusetts were automatically treated as adults, regardless of the circumstances or the severity of the offense. This new legislation raises the upper limit of juvenile court jurisdiction in Massachusetts from seventeen years old to eighteen (the law does not change the juvenile court’s lack of jurisdiction over first or second degree murder cases where the defendant is fourteen or older on the date of the offense). Advocates for raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction have long argued that treating all seventeen year olds accused of a crime as adults is out of step with national standards – a majority of other states and the federal government use eighteen as the starting age for adult criminal jurisdiction. The legislature, and ultimately Governor Patrick, answered their arguments with the new law, striking a balance between holding young people accountable for their actions while acknowledging that they are in a unique position to change and grow from their mistakes.

The statute is effective immediately, but there are still many questions about its applicability. Of particular concern is the impact that the bill will have on pending cases in district and superior court. As a general rule, changes in the law are applied prospectively – meaning that a new law only applies to cases initiated after the law is in effect. There are, however, several exceptions to this rule, including where the law explicitly states that it will be retroactive, or where a lack of retroactivity would cause a result that is inconsistent with the intent of the law. This law is silent as to retroactivity. Therefore, it must be determined whether a failure to make the law retroactive would conflict with the law’s intent. On September 16, 2013, the Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula Carey, issued a memorandum on the issue of retroactivity. The memorandum states that the trial court considers the new law to be prospective only and that the court does not intend to apply the law to pending cases. Chief Justice Carey’s memorandum, however, is not likely to be the last word on this issue. To the contrary, it is extremely likely that defense attorneys and other advocates will argue that the law does apply to pending matters.

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