The Massachusetts Senate passed a major criminal justice reform bill on October 27, 2017 and the legislation is now before our House of Representatives. Broadly speaking, the Senate bill represents a victory for the “smart on crime” approach that has swept state legislatures in recent years, even in the most conservative states. The fact is that you cannot arrest or prosecute your way out of social problems. The “tough on crime” approach has failed, proving instead to be disproportionate, destroying poor communities and communities of color, and seriously burdening taxpayers with the high fiscal and social cost of unnecessary incarceration.
Recent Department of Education policy changes under Title IX require that students accused of sexual misconduct be informed of the allegations in writing. They also allow for a higher standard of proof such as clear and convincing evidence, do not require that investigations be completed in 60 days, and allow for mediation. While all of these changes might seem obvious and non-controversial to those familiar with basic notions of due process in the American criminal justice system, they are important steps forward in the evolution of disciplinary procedures designed to adjudicate sexual assault allegations fairly and reliably on college campuses.
On September 20, 2017, the Supreme Judicial Court, in a four-judge concurring opinion in Commonwealth v. Timothy Brown, abolished the current Massachusetts doctrine of felony murder and replaced it with a new doctrine that requires the prosecution to prove actual malice. As Attorney Nathanson commented in the Boston Globe (here or here), felony murder law was "the ultimate technicality" because murder requires proof of malice, but felony murder replaced that with simply the intent to commit a felony. That rule did violence to some of our most basic principles of criminal justice: (a) that the government must prove all the elements of the crime, including intent, (b) that the defendant is presumed innocent, rather than essentially presuming his guilt of murder from his commission of some other offense, and (c) most importantly punishment - here, life imprisonment without parole - must fit the defendant's culpability or blameworthiness, rather than punishing him for unintended consequences from accidents or out-of-control compatriots.
Below you will find links to some great (and free) resources for creative and effective legal writing.
First, always use your public library! Most provide free access to excellent online academic databases including Academic OneFile.
Sign up for notifications regarding the latest law-related neuroscience publications here: http://www.lawneuro.org/listserv.php.
Keep abreast of current and developing issues at the Supreme Court using Cert Pool (http://certpool.com) and Seton Hall's law review focusing on splits of opinion among the federal courts of appeal (http://scholarship.shu.edu/circuit_review/).
Great resources for full text historical legal writings and original documents include The Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/texts), Project Gutenberg (https://www.gutenberg.org) and Yale University's Avalon Project (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/default.asp). Others include:
- Federalist Papers: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fedpapers.html
- Collections of the Founders: http://founders.archives.gov/
- Historical legal dictionaries: https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/559416
And great general purpose research tools include:
- Massachusetts Trial Court Libraries: http://www.mass.gov/courts/case-legal-res/law-lib/libraries/services/
- Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/
- Stanford University's guide to low or no cost legal research: https://law.stanford.edu/robert-crown-law-library/research-resources/brief-guide-lowno-cost-online-american-legal-research/
- American Bar Association's free journal search: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/departments_offices/legal_technology_resources/resources/free_journal_search.html
On May 31, 2016, Justice Richard Tucker granted Attorney Wood’s motion for new trial in Commonwealth v. Cosenza, a 2000 armed burglary case in which the trial judge had excluded the eyewitness expert testimony of Dr. Steven Penrod. Attorney Wood has been fighting for Mr. Cosenza for more than a decade.
Attorney Nathanson was recently interviewed by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly regarding the First Circuit's troubling decision in United States v. Szypt. In that case, the First Circuit had allowed a defendant to be prosecuted a second time even though the lower court had entered a not guilty finding after the defendant won his first appeal. The First Circuit said its ruling in the first appeal was not intended to order an acquittal, even though that is what the lower court actually ordered. The MLW article quotes Attorney Nathanson:
Many people have inquired how to proceed with public trial claims after the SJC's decisions in Commonwealth v. Morganti, 467 Mass. 96 (2014), and Commonwealth v. Alebord, 467 Mass. 106 (2014).
An alarming pattern seems to have emerged over the past two months as three different superior court judges have denied new trial motions alleging violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, despite conceding that right was violated and neither the defendants nor their trial counsel knowingly waived the right. In Commonwealth v. Kenneally (SUCR2001-10462, Brassard) (Jan. 30, 2013), Commonwealth v. McNeil (PLCR2000-03965, Chin) (Feb. 21, 2013), and Commonwealth v. Weaver (SUCR2003-11293, Hines) (Feb. 22, 2013), superior court judges all adopted remarkably similar reasoning to reject these claims.
The SJC has agreed to hear two cases involving the violation of defendants' federal constitutional right to a public trial. In these cases, the SJC should address a crucial question: whether a defendant is entitled to relief for the violation of his right to a public trial where he did not raise the issue at any point prior to or during his direct appeal.
On January 11, 2013, the SJC held in Commonwealth v. Lavoie, 464 Mass. 83 (2013), that an attorney may knowingly waive his client's federal constitutional right to a public trial without the client's knowledge or consent. It would appear that Lavoie applies only in those situations where counsel (1) knows the public has been excluded from jury selection AND (2) makes a conscious decision to waive the public trial right.