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Since the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), the right to assistance of counsel in criminal proceedings has been fundamental in protecting due process rights of criminal defendants.  However, the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected arguments that the right to counsel should extend to pre-charge proceedings such as questioning by police.  The Court has consistently limited the Sixth Amendment right to counsel to proceedings occurring after a formal charge has been brought, as it did in Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412 (1986), where it upheld a defendant’s conviction although police concealed from him that an attorney was attempting to reach him before he was questioned and confessed.

In Comm. v. Brazelton, 404 Mass. 783 (1989), the Supreme Judicial Court held that there was no right to counsel under Art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights when deciding whether to submit to a breathalyzer test, and adhered for Art. 12 purposes to the federal Sixth Amendment limits:  the right to counsel under the state constitution, as under the federal constitution, comes into being only when formal criminal proceedings commence against a person in court.  In Comm. v. Neary-French, (No. SJC-12057, August 16, 2016), the SJC revisited the issue.  The defendant in Neary-French argued that an amendment to the Massachusetts OUI statute subsequent to Brazelton, which makes it a per se crime to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content exceeding .08, made the decision whether to submit to a breathalyzer test a critical stage in a criminal prosecution.  If that were the case, Art. 12 would require the assistance of counsel in making the decision.  The Court rejected the argument and reaffirmed that Art. 12, like the Sixth Amendment, assures the assistance of counsel only after formal charges are brought. Continue reading →

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On August 1, 2016, Massachusetts passed an historic revision to its Equal Pay Act. The new law, called An Act to Establish Pay Equity (“the Act”), strengthened the existing legislation in a number of key ways, as we discussed in detail in a previous blog posting. Specifically, the law: broadens the definition of “comparable work,” making it harder for employers to distinguish between work on the basis of job titles alone; prohibits employers from reducing seniority for employees who took protected parental, family, or medical leave; extends the statute of limitations from one year to three years (which means employees who received unequal pay can recover up to three years’ worth of the salary differential, plus liquidated damages for that same amount); prohibits employers from asking about a prospective employee’s salary history prior to making an offer of employment and negotiating a salary; and does not allow employers to prohibit employees from talking about their salaries with coworkers. As with the previous version of the law, it is still illegal to retaliate against someone for asserting their rights under this Act. The amended statute also explicitly provides legal protections for employers who can show their good faith efforts to comply with the law.

The new law may require some sizeable shifts in the way that courts, employers, and employees look at the concept of “equal pay for equal work.” Change doesn’t happen overnight, and the new law is going to require employers to make several changes to their budgets, hiring practices, and office culture. These changes are going to take time. Because the new law does not go into effect until July 1, 2018, employers have nearly two years to get familiar with the law, implement changes, and make sure they aren’t caught flatfooted when July 2018 rolls around, and employees can start recovering 3 years’ worth of salary discrepancies, plus liquidated damages, and attorney fees for lingering salary inequality.

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Dr. Roger Ian Hardy, a Massachusetts fertility specialist, was a recent beneficiary of the Massachusetts definition of rape, as “sexual intercourse with another compelled by force and against the victim’s will or compelled by threat of bodily injury.” Dr. Hardy has been accused of molesting multiple female patients during gynecological exams and procedures, under the guise of providing medical treatment. As horrifying as the allegations are, the Middlesex County District Attorney has stated that no charges will be brought, due to what the Boston Globe calls an “apparent gap” in the law. At least as to the crime of rape, that conclusion is probably legally correct—but legislators should be careful, if they seek to close that gap, not to create deeper problems by sweeping all sex that results from any form of deception into criminal conduct.

Massachusetts courts have held that obtaining sex through fraud is not rape at least since 1959, when the Supreme Judicial Court decided Commonwealth v. Goldenberg. Goldenberg, another doctor, had sex with a patient who came to him for an abortion, claiming that the sex was part of the procedure. The Court held that he hadn’t raped her, because he hadn’t used force–she consented to the act, although under false premises. If Goldenberg were the only case to that effect, I suspect the District Attorney here would prosecute Dr. Hardy and argue that its holding is outdated, and that in view of the law’s ongoing evolution in this area the Supreme Judicial Court should overrule it. But in 2007, in Suliveres v. Commonwealth, the SJC upheld Goldenberg (in a case in which a man pretended to be his twin brother in order to have sex with  the brother’s girlfriend) and said that the legislature had ample time to act to change the law if it disagreed with the result in that case; because it hasn’t acted, the law stays the same. These cases certainly foreclose a successful prosecution for rape in Dr. Hardy’s case. (That said, I find it surprising that the District Attorney has not charged him with indecent assault and battery, which has different elements, does not require force, and arguably could apply.)

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This week, two Massachusetts teenagers were convicted of sexually assaulting a heavily intoxicated 16-year old girl.  Another teenager had videotaped the incident and disseminated the videos on Snapchat, the hugely popular social media app.  The main evidence in the case came from another teenage girl who was not present at the scene but had received snapchat videos showing the victim naked, “almost in a headlock,” being fondled, kissed, or forced to perform sex acts, and slurring the word “stop.”  Although Snapchat automatically deletes video and images after they are viewed, the witness was able to preserve the images by saving screenshots of them on her phone.  The defense presented no witnesses, and the jury was out for less than a day before convicting the defendants on the charges, which could result in a sentence of as much as twenty years in prison.  The male teenager who took the videos, but did not participate in the sexual assault, had previously pled guilty to related charges.

The sexual assault of an incapacitated minor, whether documented by social media or not, is obviously an egregious crime with serious penalties, and the videotaping or photographing of a sexual assault of a minor, also violates a number of criminal laws.  However, Snapchat users, who are primarily in their teens or early twenties, may not realize that seemingly mundane photos or videos capturing everyday moments could also rise to the level of a crime or violate college or university policies against sexual harassment.

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Yesterday, the State Senate passed a bill that would reform several different aspects of the juvenile justice system, with the goal of reducing children’s interactions with the court system, making those interactions more humane, and enabling them to move on from youthful mistakes and become productive adult members of society. The bill, S. 2417, would have to be passed by the State House in the next few weeks and get the Governor’s approval to become law, but it includes a number of welcome reforms.

One of the most consequential changes, which commentators have called for repeatedly, is to allow records of juvenile crimes to be expunged. Current law in Massachusetts permits some criminal records, including juvenile records, to be sealed after a waiting period of several years, meaning that the public and most employers would not be able to access those records. However, law enforcement, courts, and schools can still access sealed records for certain purposes. What is currently nearly nonexistent under Massachusetts law, in contrast, is expungement – total deletion of a record so that nobody would ever know that it existed, not employers, not law enforcement, and not the courts. Many states automatically expunge juvenile court records once an individual reaches a certain age, so that bad decisions during adolescence do not follow children into adulthood and prevent them from being admitted to schools or getting jobs. These states recognize that it is counterproductive to maintain the stigma of a criminal record on individuals who have learned from their mistakes and are trying to get back on the right track. People who try and fail to make a living by legitimate means may resort to illegal conduct to make ends meet.

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The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, the state agency responsible for guiding public colleges in Massachusetts, has recently waded into the thorny underbrush of law, morality, politics, and public relations that is the current state of discourse around sexual assault on campus.  An existing 2014 Board Resolution declared “zero tolerance” for sexual violence on campus, and in 2016 the Board’s Commissioner established a Task Force on Campus Safety and Violence Prevention to make recommendations about campus safety in general and sexual assault in particular. The Board accepted the resulting report, “Securing Our Future: Best Practice Recommendations for Campus Safety and Violence Prevention,” at its June 14, 2016 meeting.

As attorneys whose role in campus proceedings is often to represent accused students, the question we ask when reviewing any new guidance is what implications it might have for the accuracy and fairness of fact-finding following accusations of sexual assault or harassment on campus. The sections of the report that deal with sexual assault are not groundbreaking, and will ring familiar to anyone who has already perused the reports of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the extensive guidance that the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has released on this issue. But disappointingly, to the extent that the report does give any guidance as to what procedures schools should follow, it appears to endorse practices that deprive students of constitutional rights and subject them to biased inquisitions without first giving them fair notice of the accusations against them.

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In May 2016, the departments of the Massachusetts Trial Courts that handle criminal offenses issued recommended protocols and best practices designed to assist judges to impose appropriate but not overly punitive criminal sentences.  The reports emerging from the working groups of the District Courts and the Boston Municipal Court and the Superior Court explicitly share the goal of reducing over-incarceration while making use of the social science evidence available regarding which sentences (particularly including conditions of probation) are most likely to successfully prevent recidivism.

I focus here on the detailed Superior Court Report (“Criminal Sentencing in the Superior Court: Best Practices for Individualized Evidence-Based Sentencing”), which sets forth principles intended to guide judges in imposing sentence.  Many are uncontroversial, such as that judges should impose sentences consistent with goals including “deterrence, public protection, retribution, and rehabilitation.”  Other key protocols set forth in the Report are more interesting, and at least one is fairly controversial.

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Yesterday, 11 states sued the U.S. Government in a Texas federal court over recent guidance documents its agencies issued defining “sex” in various civil rights laws to include “gender identity.”  The suit is the latest in a widening legal battle over transgender rights — specifically the right of transgender people to use restrooms that accord with their gender identities.

The lawsuit challenges two recent documents from federal agencies.  On May 3, 2016, the EEOC released a fact sheet on bathroom access for transgender employees, which states that discrimination based on transgender status is sex discrimination under Title VII. On May 9, 2016 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sued North Carolina over a recently-passed law that required public employees and public school students to use bathrooms that correlate with the sex listed on their birth certificates, and an executive order that required cabinet agencies to use the same definition of “sex” in segregating their bathrooms. On May 13, 2016 the DOJ and U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” stating that “[t]he Departments treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations. This means that a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.” The lawsuit argues that these interpretations of Title VII and Title IX constitute a radical change in the law, and that the executive branch, through these two departments, cannot change the law in this way.

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More than one in six American employees provides care or assistance for an elderly or disabled family member or friend. Caregiving responsibilities cut across socioeconomic and demographic groups, although women and low-income individuals still assume a disproportionate share of such responsibilities.  One in seven Americans is currently age 65 or older, but that number is projected to increase to one in five Americans by 2040.  As the population ages, the number of employees with caregiving responsibilities is only likely to grow.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recognizes that employees with caregiving responsibilities face discrimination in the workplace related to these responsibilities.  For example, an employee may be prevented from taking leave to which she is entitled or punished when she exercises her right to such leave; an employee may be penalized for his association with a disabled employee; or an employee may be stereotyped as lazy or uncommitted to her job merely due to her caregiving responsibilities.

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As explained in Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk’s forthcoming article, The Sex Bureaucracy, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) guidance documents about Title IX have shaped college and university sexual harassment and sexual assault policies by threatening the withdrawal of federal funding if the schools do not adopt OCR’s recommendations. OCR has defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” but made clear that under Title IX schools only have an obligation to address such harassment when it rises to the level of creating a hostile environment, which it defines as harassment that “is sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s program.” This definition of sexual harassment provides the floor below which school’s policies may not fall, but nothing in Title IX or OCR guidance prevents schools from adopting even more expansive definitions of sexual harassment or standards under which they will investigate allegations of such harassment.

Recently, OCR has emphasized that it expects colleges and universities to investigate claims of sexual harassment well before they reach the threshold at which Title IX requires the school to address the harassment, i.e. before the harassment creates a hostile environment. Continue reading →

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