The majority of adolescents in Massachusetts, at some point, engage in behaviors that could subject them to delinquency proceedings in Juvenile Court. Although most of those adolescents are unlikely to engage in that type of behavior more than once or twice, even those who are otherwise not at risk for reoffending are significantly more likely to reoffend once they are arrested, charged, and processed in juvenile court.
In Concepcion v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court continued its support for sentencing discretion for district court judges. In this case, the issue was how much discretion a sentencing judge has when resentencing a defendant pursuant to the First Step Act, a substantial criminal justice reform act that Congress passed in 2018. Among its provisions is one allowing for resentencing of persons convicted before 2010 for distribution of crack cocaine who had been ineligible for resentencing when Congress in 2010 revised downward the penalties for crack cocaine (in the so-called Fair Sentencing Act). The quantities that triggered mandatory minimum sentences were reduced substantially, and the guidelines were amended to reflect those reductions.
Mr. Concepcion had been given a 19-year sentence in 2009 for selling 13.8 grams of crack. Because he was a “career offender,” meaning that he had a number of prior convictions for “crimes of violence” or drug distribution, his guideline sentencing range was not affected by the quantity reductions, and so he was not eligible for resentencing when the crack sentencing changes took effect in 2010. CONTINUE READING ›
Restraining orders are an essential tool that Massachusetts law makes available to help victims of abuse or harassment stay safe. Abuse prevention orders and harassment prevention orders (the two types of civil restraining orders available in Massachusetts) allow courts to impose restrictions on abuse and on contact. Some judges are very quick to grant requests for orders, sometimes after giving defendants scant opportunity to challenge a plaintiff’s claims. Seeking to prevent violence and other serious harm is a praiseworthy motive. But restraining orders carry significant consequences and their erroneous issuance can also cause real harm. Recently the Massachusetts Appeals Court, in Idris I. v. Hazel H., reversed and vacated a restraining order because the trial court failed to give the defendant a fair hearing before issuing the order. CONTINUE READING ›
“This court is very concerned about the disparate impact automobile stops have on persons of color and the national statistics on the fatalities suffered by such communities at the hands of police officers,” wrote Justice Cypher in a fractured plurality opinion for the Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Sweeting-Bailey last month. Despite this acknowledgment, the majority of the SJC justices agreed to grant police officers power to continue targeting communities of color and low-income neighborhoods as it confirms that police officers can consider subjective factors in deciding whether to search a passenger in a stopped car.
In many contexts, rules and codes of conduct have moved from evaluating the lawfulness or permissibility of sex based upon the presence or absence of force to instead evaluating whether the sex happened with or without consent. This is particularly true on college campuses, almost all of which have a definition of consent—usually affirmative or effective consent—that sex must meet in order to be allowed under campus policies. Many people—and particularly college-age students who have been trained on affirmative consent policies—think almost exclusively in terms of consent when considering whether sex is lawful or permissible. CONTINUE READING ›
The use of body-worn cameras by the Boston Police Department has sparked controversy since its pilot program in 2016 and its official implementation in 2019. While the City and the Police Department have marked this move as an effort to be more transparent with the community, citizens claim that such a goal of transparency cannot be achieved within a broken system. Boston Police Department has equipped more than 1,000 officers over the city with body cameras, yet there have been minimal compliance checks and investigations into the misuse of these cameras and footage. Instead, there are a handful of loopholes that permit officers to use the footage at their discretion, putting civilians’ lives at risk for privacy invasion. To further complicate the limitations police officers have in using their body-worn camera footage, the official Body Worn Camera Policy of the Boston Police Department contains ambiguous and few rules regarding the improper use of footage. In Sec. 4.2 of Rule 405, the department enumerates five improper uses of body-worn camera footage; none of which emphasizes a civilian’s privacy nor prohibits the use of the footage for other cases than the one from which the footage originated.
As part of the criminal justice reform bill in 2018, the Massachusetts legislature passed a statute creating a limited parent-child privilege so that minor children who may be in legal trouble can seek advice from their parents without having to worry that their parents could be witnesses against them in a criminal case. Similar protections exist for spouses, who cannot be compelled to testify against one another. Although the statute does not protect adult children who speak with their parents, it fills an important gap for juveniles, particularly since they have a right to speak with an “interested adult” before being interrogated by police. CONTINUE READING ›
A recent Supreme Court case has reaffirmed the rights of individuals against unreasonable government searches and seizures after the First Circuit attempted to expand an exception to the Fourth Amendment. Last year, in Caniglia v. Strom, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island) identified a new exception to the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures in the home. In the case, police searched a house and seized the owner’s firearms without a warrant and claimed they were allowed to do so because their intent was to protect against “[t]hreats to individual and community safety.” The First Circuit agreed, finding that the search fell under the “community caretaking exception” to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. In May, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the First Circuit’s attempt to expand the “community caretaking exception” in a victory for civil liberties and the rights of individuals against unreasonable government intrusions.
In Commonwealth v. Lek, Lang Lek was convicted of gun possession after two Lowell Police officers pulled him over for a minor traffic violation so that they could “investigate” and “suppress gang activity.” After searching the vehicle, which belonged to Mr. Lek’s girlfriend, the officers found a gun in the glove compartment. Mr. Lek appealed his conviction, arguing that the gun should have been suppressed because it was recovered during an illegal search. The Massachusetts Appeals Court agreed with Mr. Lek, deeming the search unlawful because the officers used an inventory search as a pretext for investigation. In its decision, the Appeals Court also articulated broad concerns about the threat of racial profiling and “arbitrary action” when the police are given “unbridled discretion” to conduct investigatory traffic stops.
In a landmark decision published last week, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless v. Fall River, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) struck down G.L.c. 85, § 17A (often referred to as the anti-panhandling law) as an unconstitutional restriction on protected speech. This decision was hailed as a victory by community organizers and people who are houseless, who have long criticized the law for effectively criminalizing houselessness and poverty.
Section 17A imposed criminal penalties for any person who “signals a moving vehicle on any public way or causes the stopping of a vehicle thereon, or accosts any occupant of a vehicle … for the purpose of soliciting any alms, contribution or subscription or of selling any merchandise.” (emphasis added). However, the law permitted the same conduct for other purposes, like selling admissions tickets and newspapers. The law also explicitly exempted from regulation this same conduct when performed on behalf of a non-profit organization with a police permit. The law imposed a $50 fine for violators.
Plaintiffs John Correira and Joseph Treeful are both houseless and members of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that advocates for housing justice and provides direct services and assistance to people experiencing houselessness. Like many people who are houseless, Mr. Correira and Mr. Treeful sometimes stand on public streets and ask motorists and passersby for donations in order to survive. Between 2018 and 2019, the Fall River Police Department charged the two men with more than forty violations of Section 17A. Both Mr. Correira and Mr. Treeful have previously been incarcerated as a result of these charges.