This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued an opinion in Commonwealth v. Lougee holding that its orders delaying trials due to COVID-19 allow the Commonwealth to hold defendants pre-trial beyond time limits set by statute. The decision applies to pre-trial detainees being held either on grounds of dangerousness under G.L. c. 276, §58A, or after violation of conditions of release under G.L. c. 276, §58B. Both statutes put time limits on how long a defendant can be held in jail without trial: 180 days under section 58A and 120 days under section 58B. The SJC decision addressed three cases: two in which the defendants were found dangerous and held under 58A, and one in which the defendant violated release conditions and was detained under 58B. In all three cases, a trial judge found that because the defendants had been detained for the statutory time limits, they had to be released. The trial judges did not find that the SJC’s orders postponing trials due to COVID-19 affected the calculation of time limits set by sections 58A and 58B. The Commonwealth appealed and the SJC reversed.
Former California Congresswoman Katie Hill recently resigned after sexually explicit photos of Hill and a staffer engaged in consensual sexual activity were leaked, allegedly by her abusive ex-husband. Her resignation should trigger broader discussions about the consequences of living in a digital age: how do we view and treat victims and perpetrators of “revenge porn”? What legal rights are there for people whose sexual privacy has been invaded, and what legal consequences are there for those who access and distribute such material? It turns out that Massachusetts is one of the last states to take up this question at the legislative level.
Last week, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian organization purporting to focus on religious liberty issues, filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on behalf of three female high school athletes in Connecticut. The complaint alleges that the three Complainants—cisgender elite track athletes—are being discriminated against because the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) permits transgender female athletes to compete in girls’ sports. The ADF has a history of instituting suits on behalf of cisgender students, arguing that recognizing transgender students’ gender identities harms their cisgender peers.
Although courts around this country have made clear that being transgender does not make someone any less a girl in the eyes of the law, the ADF Complaint consistently and incorrectly refers to transgender female athletes as “boys” and argues that allowing these “boys” to compete against girls violates girls’ rights to equal athletic opportunities. The Complaint sets forth statistics about male and female athletes to show that in almost every sport male athletes would beat female athletes if they competed head to head. It then argues: “the CIAC permits males with all the hormonal and physiological advantages that come with male puberty and male levels of testosterone to enter and win in girls’ athletic competitions of all sorts, without any exceptions.”
Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court reaffirmed that in Massachusetts, evidence unlawfully obtained from a police search will be excluded in criminal trials even in cases in which the police had good reason to believe the search was legal. That ruling buttresses a longstanding difference between federal law and Massachusetts law. In federal court, prosecutors can insulate police errors by arguing the police had a good faith basis to use an illegal tactic, and therefore evidence should not be suppressed. Not so in Massachusetts – at least for now.
Massachusetts courts often require individuals on probation, particularly sex offenders, to wear GPS monitors that track their every movement. Imposing this requirement, the state’s highest court said for the first time recently, is a search, meaning that a judge can only lawfully require such monitoring after making an individualized determination that balances “the Commonwealth’s need to impose monitoring against the privacy invasion occasioned by such monitoring.”
The two decisions issued by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), Commonwealth v. Feliz and Commonwealth v. Johnson, are the first to apply Grady v. North Carolina, a 2015 Supreme Court decision holding that GPS monitoring is in fact a search protected under the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable” searches. While the SJC had previously treated GPS monitoring as something else, calling it, for instance, “punishment” for committing an offense, Feliz and Johnson clarify that under both federal and state constitutional law, GPS monitoring is in fact a search. Applying its own new standard, the SJC reached contrasting results, deciding that GPS monitoring was unreasonable in Feliz but reasonable in Johnson.
As we have previously discussed on this blog, the Massachusetts wiretap statute makes it a crime to “secretly record” any person without their consent. The law has been used to prosecute and convict people who secretly record police activities. In Martin v. Gross and Project Veritas Action Fund v. Conley, an individual and a public-interest organization challenged the statute on First Amendment grounds. Chief Judge Saris of the U.S. District Court agreed with the challengers. In a decision published on December 10 of last year, Judge Saris held that the statute was unconstitutional insofar as it prohibited the secret recording of public officials (including police) engaged in their official duties in a public place. Police, and other public officials in Massachusetts, must now assume that their acts and statements are being recorded, whether they are told so or not. Continue reading
In the fall of 2017, writer Moira Donegan created the “Shitty Media Men” list—an “anonymous, crowd-sourced” spreadsheet that collected rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct by men in media and publishing. The spreadsheet was up on the internet for only 12 hours before Donegan pulled it, but it went viral and became much more public than Donegan intended. Donegan said she had not foreseen this outcome; her goal had been to “create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation.” That fear of reprisal has become reality: last week, one of the men named on the list, writer Stephen Elliott, sued Donegan and 30 other anonymous women for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
What do these legal claims mean, and does Elliott have a case?
In an October 2017 opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided that a judge could no longer instruct a jury about a defendant’s refusal to take a breathalyzer test unless the defendant requested the instruction. An individual stopped on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence, more commonly known as OUI, already had a legal right to take or refuse a breathalyzer, and the refusal could not be entered into evidence at trial. However, until recently, the prosecutor could request that the judge instruct the jury that they could not consider the absence of breathalyzer evidence at trial when determining guilt or innocence—an instruction that could focus the jury on the absence of that evidence and cause them to speculate that the defendant had refused the breathalyzer. Now, during a trial for OUI, the absence of breathalyzer evidence should not be mentioned in jury instructions unless at the request of the defendant.
In Commonwealth v. Wolfe, the defendant was charged with OUI in 2015. He had two trials; the first ended in a mistrial. During both trials, there was no evidence presented of the defendant’s blood alcohol level. During the second trial, the judge instructed the jury, over the defendant’s objection, not to consider the absence of breathalyzer tests in their deliberations. The judge decided to give the instruction because the jury in the first trial had asked about the lack of breathalyzer test. The second jury ultimately convicted the defendant. Continue reading
Recently, national news outlets reported that President Trumps’ attorney, Michael Cohen, had surreptitiously recorded conversations between the two discussing a deal with Stormy Daniels. While it seems that Trump had no indication that he was being recorded, and, according to his tweets, was shocked and indignant with Cohen’s actions, New York is a one-party consent state and (putting attorney/client confidentiality issues aside) Mr. Cohen’s actions appear not to have been illegal. That would not be the case in Massachusetts. Our Commonwealth is a two-party consent state; the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute requires that all parties to the communication consent to the recording. In this post, I will explain what actions are illegal, the potential consequences of violating the law, and whether the law applies to recording of police officers. Continue reading
On July 3, 2018, Governor Baker signed a law permitting a court to order firearms and other weapons to be taken away from a licensed individual who “poses a risk of causing bodily injury to self or others” for any reason. This so-called “red flag” bill is similar to laws that have been increasingly passed in other states in the wake of mass shootings such as the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The new law is designed to make it easier to remove guns from the equation where there is an indication that someone is in crisis or may engage in violence. In Parkland, police had been alerted to concerns about Nikolas Cruz’s violent propensities, but they had no legal authority to remove the guns he already owned. Although police chiefs in Massachusetts have broader discretion to suspend or revoke firearm licenses than authorities in many states (since here only someone whom a police chief determines to be a ”suitable person” according to set criteria receives a license to carry firearms), the suspension or revocation process is not designed for fast action in response to changing circumstances. Continue reading