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Massachusetts Law About Criminal Law and Procedure

Massachusetts Laws

Massachusetts criminal laws are primarily in MGL chapters 263-272:

District Court Complaint Manual, Mass. District Court. Includes suggested language and offense codes used by prosecutors to charge someone with any of approximately 5000 offenses mentioned in the General Laws, Code of Mass. Regulations, and municipal ordinances & by-laws; provides the authorized sentencing range for each offense; and, if the penalty for an offense is derived from a different statute, that statute is referenced.

Master Crime List, Mass. Sentencing Commission. Lists felonies and misdemeanors first by MGL reference, and then alphabetically by offense, specifying the penalty type and sentencing information.

Court Rules

Forms

Criminal Procedure Forms

Jury Instructions

Criminal Model Jury Instructions, 2013 edition, Mass. District Court. Includes all model district court criminal jury instructions in PDF and WordPerfect formats. Now also available as an ebook!

Criminal Jury Instructions on Joint Venture, See "Appendix" in Commonwealth v. Zannetti, 454 Mass. 449 (2009) on p. 471.

Model Jury Instructions on Homicide, Mass. Supreme Judicial Court, 2013. 94-page document provides jury instructions for all forms of homicide. See also: Chalk: Requirements of Proof for Homicide.

Selected Case Law

Commonwealth v. Adjutant, 443 Mass. 649 (2005). Self-Defense Evidence. Court held: "we are persuaded that evidence of a victim's prior violent conduct may be probative of whether the victim was the first aggressor where a claim of self-defense has been asserted and the identity of the first aggressor is in dispute. Consequently, when such circumstances are present, we hold, as a matter of common-law principle, that trial judges have the discretion to admit in evidence specific incidents of violence that the victim is reasonably alleged to have initiated."

Commonwealth v. Clark, 461 Mass. 336 (2012). Invoking Miranda rights by shaking head. Shaking head "no" is sufficient invocation of Miranda right to remain silent.

Commonwealth v. Digiambattista, 442 Mass. 423 (2004). Taping confessions and jury instructions when interrogations are not recorded. "when the prosecution introduces evidence of a defendant's confession or statement that is the product of a custodial interrogation or an interrogation conducted at a place of detention (e.g., a police station), and there is not at least an audiotape recording of the complete interrogation, the defendant is entitled (on request) to a jury instruction advising that the State's highest court has expressed a preference that such interrogations be recorded whenever practicable, and cautioning the jury that, because of the absence of any recording of the interrogation in the case before them, they should weigh evidence of the defendant's alleged statement with great caution and care. Where voluntariness is a live issue and the humane practice instruction is given, the jury should also be advised that the absence of a recording permits (but does not compel) them to conclude that the Commonwealth has failed to prove voluntariness beyond a reasonable doubt."

Commonwealth v. DiPadova, 460 Mass. 424 (2011). Provides language for jury instructions on criminal responsibility in cases of mental illness and voluntary intoxication.

Commonwealth v. Dixon, 458 Mass. 446 (2010). DNA Indictment. "Probably more than proper names or physical characteristics, DNA profiles unassailably fulfil the constitutional requirement that an indictment provide 'words of description which have particular reference to the person whom the Commonwealth seeks to convict.'"

Commonwealth v. Gautreaux, 458 Mass. 741 (2011). Notification to consulate of arrest. " We conclude that the notifications required by art. 36 [of the Vienna Convention] must be provided to foreign nationals on their arrest; and, if not provided, a challenge to the soundness of any conviction resulting therefrom may be made in a motion for a new trial. The standard to be applied in such circumstances is the substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice standard, one that the defendant has not met in this case. "

Commonwealth v. Gomes, 459 Mass. 194 (2011). Judge must go on view. "This court will henceforth require, as a matter of common law, that judges attend a view."

Commonwealth v. Gonsalves, 445 Mass. 1 (2005). Victim/Witness Statements. Most statements given to police investigating a crime may not be used at trial unless the witness can be cross-examined.

Commonwealth v. Guzman, 446 Mass. 344, 845 NE2d 270 (2006). Accord and Satisfaction. Case regarding the constitutionality of MGL c.272, s.55, which states "If a person committed to jail is under indictment or complaint for, or is under recognizance to answer to, a charge of assault and battery or other misdemeanor for which he is liable in a civil action, unless the offence was committed by or upon a sheriff or other officer of justice, or riotously, or with intent to commit a felony, and the person injured appears before the court or justice who made the commitment or took the recognizance, or before which the indictment or complaint is pending, and acknowledges in writing that he has received satisfaction for the injury, the court or justice may in its or his discretion, upon payment of such expenses as it or he shall order, discharge the recognizance or supersede the commitment, or discharge the defendant from the indictment or complaint, and may also discharge all recognizances and supersede the commitment of all witnesses in the case."

Commonwealth v. Harris, 11 Mass. App. Ct. 165 (1981). Citizen's Arrest. "In Massachusetts a private person may lawfully arrest someone who has in fact committed a felony... The stricter requirement for a citizen's arrest -- that the person arrested be shown in fact to have committed a felony -- is designed to discourage such arrests and to prevent "the dangers of uncontrolled vigilantism and anarchistic actions." ...Generally, the person arrested must be convicted of a felony before the "in fact committed" element is satisfied and the arrest validated. If the citizen is in error in making the arrest, he may be liable in tort for false arrest or false imprisonment."

Commonwealth v. Montoya, 457 Mass. 102 (2010), and Commonwealth v. Quintos Q., 457 Mass. 107 (2010). Resisting Arrest. Creating a "substantial risk of injury to police" by fleeing from a police stop is resisting arrest, whereas merely fleeing from police after being stopped is not.

Commonwealth v. Murphy, 448 Mass. 452 (2007). Jailhouse Informants. "Where the government has entered into an "articulated agreement containing a specific benefit," or promise thereof, the recipient inmate is a government agent for purposes of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights even if the inmate is not directed to target a specific individual."

Commonwealth v. Narcisse, 457 Mass. 1 (2010). Stop and Frisk. "Today we mark the end of Fraser's role as an exception, and we state expressly that police officers may not escalate a consensual encounter into a protective frisk absent a reasonable suspicion that an individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a criminal offense and is armed and dangerous."

Commonwealth v. Patterson, 445 Mass. 626 (2005). Fingerprint evidence. The court held that while "the underlying theory and process of latent fingerprint identification, and the ACE-V method in particular, are sufficiently reliable to admit expert opinion testimony regarding the matching of a latent impression with a full fingerprint," the same theory and methodology cannot be "applied reliably to simultaneous impressions not capable of being individually matched to any of the fingers that supposedly made them."

Commonwealth v. Perez, 460 Mass. 683 (2011). CSI effect. "Although anecdotal reports and media coverage have fueled concerns within the legal community about the so-called "CSI effect," there is little empirical evidence supporting its existence."... Nevertheless, "the trial judge did not abuse his discretion questioning the venire about their views on scientific evidence."

Commonwealth v. Phifer, 463 Mass. 790 (2012). Warrantless search of cell phone incident to arrest. Where a phone was lawfully seized incident to arrest, "the officers here had probable cause to believe the telephone's recent call list would contain evidence relating to the crime for which he was arrested," and officers only looked at the recent call list, " the search of the call list in this case was a valid search incident to arrest."

Commonwealth v. Portillo, 462 Mass. 324 (2012). English transcript of interrogation in foreign language. " where the Commonwealth intends in its case-in-chief to offer at a criminal trial statements made by a defendant in a foreign language in a tape-recorded interview, a judge has discretion to require the Commonwealth to provide defense counsel in advance of trial with an English-language transcription of the interview, and to exclude the statements where the Commonwealth declines to do so."

Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 461 Mass. 256 (2012). Judge can reduce sentence below recommendation by prosecutor in plea deal. "We conclude that where, as here, a judge acts on his own timely motion to revise or revoke a sentence, the judge has the authority to reduce a sentence where "it appears that justice may not have been done" regardless whether a plea agreement includes an agreed sentence recommendation."

McDonough, petitioner, 457 Mass. 512 (2010). "(1) where a witness with a disability requests accommodation in order to testify, MERA requires that the court provide such accommodation, so long as it is "reasonable," G.L. c. 93, § 103 (a ); (2) where there is a dispute concerning such a witness's request for accommodation, a judge should conduct a hearing to resolve the dispute, preferably before trial, and the witness should be provided with reasonable accommodation, if available, during the pretrial hearing; and (3) where a judge precludes a witness with a disability from testifying by denying a request for accommodation, the party proffering the witness, but not the witness, may appeal the judge's interlocutory ruling as a matter of right to the Appeals Court."

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966). Required Warnings. " In dealing with custodial interrogation, we will not presume that a defendant has been effectively apprised of his rights and that his privilege against self-incrimination has been adequately safeguarded on a record that does not show that any warnings have been given or that any effective alternative has been employed. " See also, Miranda v. Arizona Explanation from National Paralegal College.

Most Wanted Lists

Other Web Sources

Appeals Court Frequently Asked Questions, Mass. Appeals Court. In a question and answer format, provides essential information on how to file an appeal in both civil and criminal cases. Covers everything from the notice of appeal to how long to expect to wait for a decision. Great resource!

Criminal Law: Desk Reference, Nolo, 2013. A-Z Guide to crimes, punishments and more. Requires Library Card for access.

The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System, Nolo, 2013. Explains the criminal system in plain English. Offers an overview of the criminal justice system from arrest to appeal and more. Requires Library Card for access.

Featured Practice Tips from the Superior Court Bench, MCLE. A "series of short video briefings offering practical and sage advice from more than forty active and alumni members of the Massachusetts Superior Court."

Frequently Asked Questions About Inquests, Boston Herald. Attribution is unclear, but we believe this was written by the District Court Dept. Explains how the inquest process works.

Massachusetts Criminal Practice, 4th ed., by Blumenson, Eric D. Full-text available via Suffolk University Law School. c2012.

Print Sources

Do No Wrong: Ethics for Prosecutors and Defenders, American Bar Association, 2009.

Massachusetts Criminal Law: A District Court Prosecutor's Guide, by Richard G. Stearns, loose-leaf.

Massachusetts Practice v.32 (Criminal Law), 3d ed, West, 2001 with supplement.