We are disappointed in the SJC’s ruling today that pretextual traffic stops are permissible. The opinion expresses concern about the problem of racial profiling and “driving while black.” But in deciding the issues, it emphasizes the difficulties faced by judges asked to decide that a stop was pretextual. In contrast, the opinion gives short shrift to the real world difficulties faced by people who are subjected to pretextual stops. Pretextual stops lead to not just inconvenience, but embarrassment, missed appointments, lost pay, lost jobs, and even lost lives. A judge’s supposed difficulty in deciding whether a stop was pretextual should not outweigh the difficulties of the people of the Commonwealth.
We were troubled by a misstatement in a recent SJC opinion which asserted that Massachusetts' art. 26 protection against cruel or unusual punishments had never been ruled to be more protective than the Eighth Amendment. It just isn't true. So, we (along with Attorney Merritt Schnipper) filed this amicus brief on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, asking the SJC to remove this misstatement. Many of us feared that this was a beachhead in an attempted rollback on constitutional protections.
We read with interest about this case from Connecticut in which Yale was forced to settle a claim that it wrongfully expelled a student who was the subject of a false sexual assault claim. The case involved personal vendettas, student group politics, and and an unfair disciplinary process. Even when well-intentioned, these hearings can quickly go off the rails. If you are the subject of a Title IX complaint, you need counsel!
Recently, Attorney Ward successfully obtained the dismissal of an OUI case. She did so by pushing the case to a quick trial and being ready to try the case when the Commonwealth was not. As a result, our client can return to driving for work and avoid other potentially serious consequences from a criminal conviction. We always strive to understand what our client's objectives are and formulate a plan to achieve them through preparation, skill and zealousness.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed its own criminal justice reform bill. What happens now? In short, negotiations. The Senate and House versions have some substantive differences that need to be negotiated and agreed upon in a conference committee. That process will likely run into next year. We can expect some very positive developments at the end of the process: expanded expungement for some criminal records, repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, and the reform of the use of solitary confinement or segregation. These are all data-driven "smart on crime" reforms that are likely to benefit society as a whole, not just offenders.
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.
Attorney Malm convinced the Supreme Judicial Court to take one of his cases in which he raised the important issue of whether or how police authority should be limited when a traffic stop for an observed civil traffic infraction is clearly a pretext to engage in an investigation of other activity. The Court has asked for amicus briefs on the issue. We hope to have supporting briefs from important civil rights and professional groups. Pretextual traffic stops enable racial profiling, and undermine public respect for the rule of law. The briefs and the Court's amicus invitation can be found here.
Recently, Attorney Shih successfully convinced a clerk magistrate to throw out a pending application for a criminal motor vehicle infraction against the client. Additionally, Attorney Shih prevented a second criminal assault & battery complaint from issuing, protecting the client from having any criminal charges whatsoever show up on her record.
Attorney Wood achieved the speedy release in Massachusetts of a client who was held, without bail, on a fugitive from justice complaint (out-of-state warrant). He then assisted the client in quickly dismissing the various pending criminal complaints that had previously hindered his release.
Wood & Nathanson represents individuals in many areas related to criminal charges. Recently Wood & Nathanson attorneys became members of the Committee for Public Counsel Services panels for trial representation, juvenile delinquency appeals, and sex offender registry board representation. Attorney Shih will represent adult criminal defendants in Suffolk County trial courts, Attorney Ward will represent people before the SORB, and Attorney Jellison will represent juveniles in appeals from delinquency trials.
On April 18, 2017, Attorney Wood and a team from Foley Hoag, LLP filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Judicial Court arguing for the abolition of the felony murder rule. The rule, which holds defendants strictly liable for any death that occurs as a result of a felony they commit, divorces moral culpability from criminal liability. The result in Massachusetts can be life without parole for unintended or accidental killings. The rule is disproportionate, unfair, and should be abandoned. Read the brief here.
On March 23-26, Attorney Wood accompanied his client Nat Cosenza to the 2017 National Innocence Network Conference in San Diego. The conference gave exonerees a chance to connect to one another for support and to share their experiences so that attorneys and others in the innocence community could better understand how wrongful convictions occur, how to prevent them, and the challenges that exonerees face even after regaining their freedom. An article about Nat's experience at the conference can be found here.
On March 24, 2017, Attorney Nathanson spoke at the Advanced Post-Conviction Litigation Seminar of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He spoke regarding post-conviction discovery, including the government's obligations to disclose exculpatory evidence under Brady v. Maryland as well as strategies for litigation under Mass. R. Crim. P. 30(c)(4).
Attorney Matthew Malm has become Of Counsel to Wood & Nathanson as of April, 2017. We're pleased to continue our relationship with Attorney Malm, formerly an associate with Wood & Nathanson. He will continue his focus on criminal defense, appeals and post-conviction work.
Attorney Claire Alexis Ward has joined Wood & Nathanson as of April, 2017. Attorney Ward comes to us from the Committee for Public Counsel Services, where she was a trial attorney in the Brockton District Court. Attorney Ward is a graduate of Northeastern University Law School and Harvard University. Check back soon for her attorney page.
On March 6, 2017, Attorney Wood and a team of attorneys from Ropes & Gray filed a brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Weaver v. Massachusetts, No. 16-240. They argue that the Court should not shy away from vindicating the treasured right to a public trial. The government's argument that vindicating the right to a public trial would "open up the floodgates" is both factually incorrect and diverts attention from the real issue: whether our Constitution entitles everyone to a public trial. Read the brief here.
On February 15, 2017, Attorney Wood and his client Nat Cosenza presented a joint lecture for the Committee for Public Counsel Services on the challenges of presenting a new trial motion based on expert eyewitness identification testimony rejected at trial and on direct appeal but later accepted as accurate information that jurors should have. Nat spoke about the factors that lead to a successful transition from a lengthy period of incarceration to a life of liberty.
Attorney Malm persuaded the Massachusetts Appeals Court to uphold a decision of the Bristol County Superior Court allowing his client's motion to suppress items seized as the result of a motor vehicle stop by police without reasonable suspicion.
On January 18, 2017, Attorney Wood lectured at Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education's seminar "Effective Appellate Advocacy". Attorney Wood spoke on effective brief writing, urging counsel to pay attention to developing a theme in a brief, to effectively use headings, to write clearly, and to seek amicus support.
Attorney Wood and a team from Goodwin Procter drafted an amicus brief in Commonwealth v. Keown on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers advancing the cutting edge argument that, when seeking a warrant to search a cell phone, law enforcement must comply with the Fourth Amendment's requirement to "particularly describ[e] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Police should not have carte blanche to sift through people's digital lives. They must limit their searches to inquiries reasonably designed to discover specific evidence of a particular crime. Joining the brief were the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Read the brief on our website here or on the Supreme Judicial Court's website here.
On January 5, 2017, Attorney Nathanson convinced a judge to vacate our client's guilty pleas to drug trafficking because his trial attorney failed to advise him that a plea to drug distribution would make him automatically deportable under Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010). Attention to immigration consequences is essential in defending a criminal case.
On December 19, 2016, Attorney Nathanson and Attorney Shih secured the release of our client who had been serving a 15 year federal sentence for possession of a machine gun. Using the decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), the client’s sentence was reduced to time served with probation. They were able to convince the judge that, given the client's exemplary progress in prison and family support, he should be allowed to go directly home instead of a halfway house. Attorneys Nathanson and Shih helped the client create and practice what the judge called "one of the best allocutions I've ever heard."
On August 12, 2016, Attorney Wood convinced a Superior Court judge to grant a new trial in Commonwealth v. Celester, after the Supreme Judicial Court sent the case back for further hearings. The judge agreed with Attorney Wood that Mr. Celester's first attorney had provided ineffective assistance by advising his client to make a statement to the police.
On June 16, 2016, in Commonwealth v. Moore, the SJC unanimously affirmed the decision of the trial court that Attorney Wood should be permitted to contact jurors in a widely publicized murder case to investigate the possibility that their verdict was affected by extraneous influences. Attorney Wood had been the first attorney in Massachusetts to take advantage of a change in the rules of professional conduct permitting attorneys to contact jurors in an effort to uncover injustice. This decision is expected to have a wide impact on post-conviction investigation of criminal cases.
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 Wood was recently invited to serve on the Litigation Committee for the New England Innocence Project. The Committee identifies innocence cases across New England that are deserving of legal support.