Warrant-Based Searches Do Not Override Statutory Consent Requirement for OUI Blood Draws

1570730188549_106x126

by Emma Quinn-Judge

Case Focus

A licensed driver who uses the public roadways in Massachusetts has agreed—implicitly—to submit to blood alcohol testing (BAC) or a breathalyzer test if arrested for operating under the influence of alcohol (OUI). If the driver refuses to take a BAC test, the driver’s license is suspended for 180 days or longer. While there are consequences to declining testing, the Commonwealth’s implied consent statute is unequivocal: Where a driver declines a blood test, “no such test . . . shall be made.”

Drawing a blood sample is a search and seizure for constitutional purposes, because individuals have an expectation of privacy in their blood. However, both the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) have long held that law enforcement may draw blood without consent where there is either a search warrant supported by probable cause, or exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search. Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 767 (1966); Commonwealth v. Angivoni, 383 Mass. 30, 32 (1981).

In Commonwealth v. Bohigian, 486 Mass. 209 (2020), the SJC considered whether, in an OUI prosecution, a BAC test performed without consent, but with a warrant, was admissible. In a 4-2 decision, the SJC concluded that the implied consent statute “flatly and unambiguously prohibits blood draws without consent,” and as such, BAC evidence obtained by a warrant is inadmissible. Id. at 214.

Following an accident in which he seriously injured another driver, Charles Bohigian refused to consent to a blood draw. A State Trooper obtained a warrant to draw Bohigian’s blood. After being presented with the warrant, Bohigian refused again to have his blood drawn. Troopers ultimately held down his arms and legs while a nurse drew his blood. A chemical analysis of his blood revealed that Bohigian’s BAC was more than twice the legal limit. See G. L. c. 90, § 24 (1)(a)(1). Bohigian was charged with and convicted of, among other things, OUI.

General Laws c. 90, § 24(1)(f)(1) provides that an individual operating on a public road “shall be deemed to have consented to submit to a chemical test or analysis of his breath or blood in the event that he is arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor.” If, however, “the person arrested refuses to submit to such test or analysis [and is informed of the consequences of such refusal], no such test or analysis shall be made.” G.L. c. 90, § 24(1)(e)(1) makes such tests admissible in OUI prosecutions, “provided . . . that if such test was made by or at the direction of a police officer, it was made with the consent of the defendant.” Thus, “[t]ogether the two subsections provide that, if an arrestee consents to a BAC test, the results are presumptively admissible at trial for a charge of OUI under § 24(1)(a).” Bohigian, 486 Mass. at 212.

Prior appellate decisions suggested that the statutory framework provided a right of refusal that was independent of, and in addition to, any constitutional requirements. In Commonwealth v. Davidson, 27 Mass. App. Ct. 846, 848 (1989), the Appeals Court noted that “[w]here there is probable cause to believe that a defendant has been operating a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, the defendant has no constitutional right to refuse a blood test or breathalyzer test,” but rather, the “right of refusal he does have stems from the statute, which requires that a test not be conducted with his consent.” In Commonwealth v. Dennis, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 528, 532 (2019), the Appeals Court reiterated that “a requirement of consent is imposed by statute even when, because there is probable cause and exigent circumstances, one is not imposed by the Federal Constitution.”

Davidson and Dennis, however, both concerned how to evaluate consent. Neither case involved a situation in which police officers had obtained a warrant for a blood draw after an unequivocal refusal. Bohigian squarely presented that question for the first time and, following the reasoning and statutory interpretation in these earlier cases, the SJC held that the “plain statutory language . . . creates a blanket prohibition against blood draws without consent in the context of OUI prosecutions.” Bohigian, 486 Mass. at 213. While an individual’s blood may be drawn pursuant to a warrant in other contexts and for other purposes, the right of refusal in OUI cases is absolute.

The SJC’s decision treated constitutional rights as a floor or baseline for individual rights. “It is well within the Legislature’s authority to provide additional privacy protections over and above those granted by the Federal Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.” Bohigian, 486 Mass. at 216. Viewing the statute within this analytical framework, the Court examined the plain language, giving weight to Davidson and Dennis, which articulated a longstanding interpretation of the statutory language. Indeed, the SJC noted that the legislature had repeatedly amended the relevant statutory provisions since Davidson was decided in 1989, without ever changing the consent requirements. The Court also pointed out that the Massachusetts statute was adopted just one year after the Supreme Court decided Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966), implying that the legislative choice to require consent was made knowingly in the aftermath of a landmark Supreme Court decision establishing that blood draws are permissible with a warrant or under exigent circumstances. Moreover, the Court noted that other states with similar statutory schemes have interpreted them to categorically bar blood draws without consent. Finally, the SJC emphasized that there are valid public policy reasons to strike the balance the legislature struck, including the interest in avoiding violent confrontation and the risk of injury to patients and health care providers.

Justice Lowy, joined by Justice Kafker, dissented on the ground that the decision of a “neutral and detached magistrate” to issue a warrant upon a finding of probable cause, “bears no relation to the suspected offender’s consent, nor does it implicate the regulatory apparatus of implied consent or its effects on evidentiary admissibility.” Bohigian, 486 Mass. at 221. In other words, the dissent viewed constitutional provisions regarding unlawful search and seizure not as the minimum level of protection for individual rights, but rather as an exception to the rights set forth by statute. Rejecting the majority’s statutory interpretation, the dissent focused on the statute’s overriding public safety purpose: “[F]or every hemophiliac, diabetic, or person on anticoagulant medication who is arrested for OUI, or for every medical worker who is injured by a sharp needle when blood is drawn . . . immeasurably more danger results from permitting repeat OUI offenders to get behind the wheel.” Bohigian, 486 Mass. at 235.

In cases where a defendant unequivocally refuses to take a breathalyzer or BAC test, the implied consent statute establishes an unambiguous standard: “[N]o such test or analysis shall be made.” G.L. c. 90 § 24(f)(1). The civil penalties for refusal are not insignificant: They include immediate license suspension for at least six months per test (and for substantially longer periods for those with a record of prior OUI convictions), with no right to reinstatement or a hardship permit during the period of suspension, as well as vehicle impoundment and related costs. The statute provides that the minimum periods of license suspension apply to each refusal, with suspensions to run concurrently, not consecutively “as to any additional suspension periods arising from the same incident, and as to each other.” Id.

Bohigian has simplified the legal questions for a driver who refuses a blood alcohol test. Because not all individuals refuse testing as clearly as Mr. Bohigian did, whether a driver—especially a highly-intoxicated or seriously-injured driver—has legally consented to a blood test is likely to remain contested in many cases. The answer to that question will still require a court to analyze whether the driver consented voluntarily, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. And where the Fourth Amendment is satisfied, a court will need to examine whether an individual has met the lower statutory standard for consent discussed in Dennis and Davidson (i.e., the “traditional indicia of waiver of rights”). While Bohigian may be the final word on refusal, it is unlikely to be the last word on consent.

Emma Quinn-Judge is a partner at Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, where she focuses on criminal defense, employment litigation, and appeals.


Grand Jury Service: Observations From a Criminal Lawyer

Capture_106x126

by Jack W. Pirozzolo

Viewpoint

About the last thing I ever expected was that I would end up serving on a grand jury. I am currently an attorney in private practice at a large firm, where much of my practice involves the defense of organizations and individuals in criminal matters, including grand jury investigations. Before joining my current firm, I spent over ten years as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston and handled many lengthy, sometimes years-long, grand jury investigations.

The grand jury notice came in the spring and called me for grand jury duty in Norfolk County Superior Court in early July. According to the notice, if empaneled, I would be required to serve three days per week from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for approximately three months over the summer. Although such service would pose a major complication for my practice, I was not concerned. First, I expected that, given my background, there was no conceivable way I would get selected for the grand jury. Second, I figured that if, by some off chance, I did get selected, the summer months might be a slow time for the Court, so there would be a decent chance that the schedule of cases would not be full.

On the evening before I had to report, I sat with my wife and one of our kids at dinner and went over the jury form I needed to submit the next day to the Court. The form is intended to identify aspects of a potential grand juror’s background that might make the juror biased or otherwise not suited to serve.  We all chuckled as I went through the questions: Do you or any of your family members have any experience with the criminal justice system? Do you or any of your family members have any connections to law enforcement? Have you or any of your family members ever been a victim of a crime? I answered yes to virtually every question asked and then provided the required detail. We all believed that I would show up, get excused, and then head to the office later in the morning.

We were wrong. I arrived at the Norfolk County courthouse at the required time and eventually joined about a hundred other prospective grand jurors. We congregated in a courtroom before the presiding judge, who was there to select the twenty-three of us who would serve as grand jurors for the next three months. Grand jury selection proceeds similarly to jury selection for trials, with one major difference: there is no defense attorney or defendant. Only the prosecutors, the judge, the clerk, and the court officers are present.

The presiding judge told us that she would seat twenty-three jurors beginning with juror number one. She invited any juror whose number was called to approach the bench and inform her whether there was any reason that the juror could not serve on the grand jury. She had seated about half of the grand jury panel when she got to my number. I approached the bench, expecting that she would immediately excuse me after seeing my disclosure form. Instead, she had only one question for me: “Could I be fair?” Of course, my answer to that was “yes.” Having spent ten years presenting matters to grand jurors who were pulled away from their daily commitments to serve, I did not think it was either reasonable or prudent for me to protest that I was too busy to serve. I took my seat in the box.

Once all twenty-three of us were selected, we were escorted to the grand jury room for orientation. After a briefing on logistics, two prosecutors took over the balance of the orientation, which consisted of a process often referred to as the “preliminary legal instructions.” This process essentially consisted of the prosecutors reading to us model jury instructions for the Massachusetts criminal code. For more than two hours the prosecutors read, in detail, the instructions for each element of crimes ranging from assault and battery with a deadly weapon, possession with intent to distribute, larceny, homicide, etc. They then informed us that they would re-read the relevant instructions for the specific criminal offenses each time they presented a specific case for indictment.

I have been a lawyer for over twenty years and I have participated in scores of jury instruction readings. This was, however, my first experience sitting through jury instructions as a juror. The experience caused me to re-think my own assumptions about jury instructions and has led me to a couple of observations.

First, the preliminary instruction process for the grand jury needs to be reconsidered. A wholesale reading of the elements of multiple crimes, devoid of any factual context, served very little useful purpose, as there was simply no way that the grand jurors could have meaningfully and usefully processed the information the prosecutors were presenting. I am not suggesting that there was anything sinister in what the prosecutors were doing. But a two-hour reading of the elements of various crimes risked leading the grand jurors to develop an incomplete and, in some ways, inaccurate understanding of the relevant legal concepts.

My second observation regarding jury instructions developed over my entire time serving on the grand jury. As the grand jury moved on to the job of hearing and deliberating on specific cases and deciding whether there was probable cause (which is the only responsibility of the grand jury), I grew increasingly uneasy about what has become a well-settled and traditional practice on how juries are instructed. As part of the standard protocol, prosecutors read to us the relevant model instructions on each case immediately before our deliberations. My experience listening to these instructions as a grand juror led me to think that model instructions may provide a statement of a rule or applicable standard, but do not provide an appropriate frame of reference for jurors to contextualize the application of the rule to the particular case before them. Model instructions seem to be written by lawyers for lawyers and not for the laypeople who make up the bulk of the jury pool and are the intended audience. As lawyers, I think we tend to have a blind spot on this because the language of jury instructions is part of our professional vernacular. We have developed a shared language and understanding of what those words mean. Lay jurors do not have that shared understanding. Based on my experience in the grand jury, jury instructions would more effectively teach the jurors how they are supposed to apply the law to the facts by focusing less on the broad statement of the “law” or “elements” and more on specific examples of fact patterns that fall both within, and without, the scope of a particular criminal statute. If they have not already, courts may also want to consider investing in empirical testing to assess which types of instructions are most effective at teaching jurors to apply the law correctly.

During the three months, we had several different prosecutors appear before us. Those who were most effective tended to have certain common elements in their presentations.

First, they were very well organized. They arrived on time and ensured that their witnesses were available and ready at the appointed time. Their examinations were well ordered and their witnesses, particularly the law enforcement witnesses, were well prepared. They presented the evidence in a logical, coherent and efficient way. They did not leave gaps in the evidence and they did not overload us with repetitive or cumulative evidence.

Second, they made effective use of visuals. I was surprised at how often raw surveillance video provided only limited information about an event. Some prosecutors recognized that limitation and used their witnesses to explain how the surveillance video, for example, fit into the broader body of evidence being presented. Somewhat surprising to me was the fact that few, if any, prosecutors used overhead diagrams as a tool. Use of such diagrams would have made testimony, particularly about crime scenes, far more coherent and effective.

Third, they used a “cast of characters” chart with faces and names of people relevant to the investigation. Such a chart was particularly helpful when used to help organize a case with a large number of witnesses and potential “targets” (the people for whom the Commonwealth would seek indictments). Too often prosecutors seemed to forget, or not appreciate, how difficult it was for us to process how the different names we heard during the course of testimony related to the events in question, particularly when we were hearing about the individuals and events for the first time. The more effective prosecutors, no doubt recognizing the value of cast of characters charts, used them.

Fourth, they made effective use of witnesses. They allowed fact witnesses to testify in a more open-ended fashion, keeping leading questions to a minimum. They also, when necessary, framed their questions in a way that kept witnesses focused on the relevant information. Lay witnesses, many of whom are themselves unfamiliar with the process, can have a tendency to inject irrelevant, speculative and potentially prejudicial information into their testimony. The most effective prosecutors were able to focus their questions in a way that minimized the potential for a witness to stray. Sometimes that meant judicious and timely use of leading questions.

Fifth, they were careful to present facts that were potentially exculpatory or otherwise mitigating. While the Supreme Judicial Court has not required prosecutors in all instances to bring exculpatory evidence to the attention of grand juries, they are not permitted to withhold exculpatory or other evidence that leaves the grand jury with a distorted view of the facts. Commonwealth v. O’Dell, 392 Mass. 445 (1984). Those prosecutors that appeared to present the facts fairly were the most effective.

Sixth, they showed an appropriate appreciation of the grand jury’s independence as arbiter of whether charges are brought. Prosecutors have a tremendous ability to control the grand jury, but it is the grand jury that makes the charging decisions. The more effective prosecutors were careful to honor the grand jury’s domain.

This leads to my final observation about grand jury service. During the three months I served on the grand jury, virtually every attorney with whom I spoke about my service (usually in the context of changing a schedule) asked me whether the panel had yet indicted a “ham sandwich.” This is a reference to the famously overused statement from Judge Sol Wachtler, the former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, who believed that grand juries do not serve the protective function for which they were originally intended and would indict a “ham sandwich” if asked by the prosecutors to do so. In my experience, Judge Wachtler’s characterization grossly distorts both the grand jury’s role and how it functions.

While it is true that most cases presented to the grand jury result in an indictment of some kind, that fact largely is the consequence of two structural aspects of the grand jury: first, that the grand jurors need only to find “probable cause” rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt; and second, that an indictment requires only twelve of the twenty-three grand jurors to agree that the prosecutor has met the probable cause showing. Although I cannot discuss any particular cases because of the requirement of grand jury secrecy, I generally observed that the grand jurors with whom I served took their obligations both to find the facts and to apply the facts to the law seriously. The group often took considerable time sorting through evidence and the relevant jury instructions that had been presented by the prosecution before making a decision on a proposed indictment. While it was rare for the grand jury to reject all charges, called issuing a blanket “no bill” (although it did happen), it was very common for the grand jury to “no bill” (reject) some, but not all, charges presented for indictment. In that respect, the grand jury played a significant role in determining the precise charges brought against a defendant. At least in that respect, the role of the grand jury as a shield was genuinely meaningful.

When I told colleagues that I had been selected to serve on a grand jury and that I would be tied up during most of the business day, three days per week, for three months, they were incredulous. The truth is that no one was more surprised than I. But looking back, it was well worth it. Not only did I make some new friends, but I also received a rare gift for someone in my position – I was able to see my profession from a completely new perspective, one that has given me a deeper and more complete view of the system in which I make my professional home.

Jack Pirozzolo is a partner in the Boston Office of Sidley Austin LLP where he represents individuals and organizations in a wide variety of civil and criminal matters.  Before joining Sidley, Jack spent ten years as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Massachusetts, the last five of which he served as First Assistant United States Attorney.


Truth and Justice with Capital Letters

by Hon. Margaret H. Marshall and Marina Pullerits

Voice of the Judiciary

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope. . . .

Czeslaw Milosz, Incantation. Translated by Cseslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky.

January 9, 2020: The question comes near the end of oral argument. “What is the obligation of the Court,” asks the Chief Justice, when defense counsel reports allegations of racism in jury deliberations that may have changed some votes to guilty? The Chief Justice repeats the question: “What’s a judge’s obligation” in such circumstances? The answer comes on September 24, 2020, ten days after his death. It is the obligation of a judge to address promptly any allegation that racial or ethnic bias may have infected the jury deliberations, the Chief Justice wrote. Commonwealth v. McCalop, 485 Mass. 790, 791 (2020). “A guilty verdict arising from racial or ethnic bias not only poses a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice,” he continued, “but also, ‘if left unaddressed, would risk systemic injury to the administration of justice.’” Id. (quoting Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 855, 868 (2017)).

Ralph D. Gants served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court from 2014 to 2020. McCalop, and several more of his final opinions, are exemplars of the tenets he held for guiding the Massachusetts judiciary. Each opinion is beautifully written, carefully reasoned. Each holds in equipoise the resolution of the case at hand, and the articulation of broader principles, signposts to ensure future decisions will be fair, just, and sensible. Each is a painful reminder of how much we have lost by his untimely death. Chief Justice Gants wrote to establish universal ideas in language; human reason guided his hand to write Truth and Justice with capital letters.

In two of Chief Justice Gants’ last opinions, the Court recommended changes to the Model Jury Instructions on Homicide.[1] In Commonwealth v. Castillo, 485 Mass. 852 (2020), released on October 6, the Court set aside a conviction of murder in the first degree and reduced the degree of guilt to murder in the second degree because, the Chief Justice wrote, the Model Jury Instructions on the meaning of “extreme atrocity and cruelty” did not adequately distinguish between murder in the first and second degree. Id. at 854. “The defendant’s conduct—firing a single shot into the victim’s back—was stupid, senseless, and cowardly,” he wrote. Id. at 867. “Indeed, where it tragically caused the death of a young man, it was atrocious and cruel. . . . But extreme cruelty means that the defendant caused the person’s death by a method that surpassed the cruelty inherent in any taking of human life . . . . Nothing about the facts of this case suggests that the defendant’s conduct met that standard.” Id. at 867–68 (emphasis in original) (quotation and citation omitted). The Court included a new provisionally revised model jury instruction to better distinguish conduct that warrants a conviction of murder in the first degree from conduct that should result in a conviction of murder in the second degree. Id at 865–66, 869.

In Commonwealth v. Dunphe, 485 Mass. 871 (2020), released on October 7, Chief Justice Gants again authored an opinion vacating a conviction of murder in the first degree because of inadequate jury instructions, this time regarding the defendant’s criminal responsibility for the killing. The defendant, suffering from hallucinations and a false belief that the victim was his abusive father, had killed a fellow patient in a psychiatric ward. Id. at 872. The trial judge instructed the jury in a way “that closely tracked” the Model Jury Instructions. Id. Nevertheless, the Chief Justice wrote, there was a “significant risk” that the jury could misunderstand those instructions. Id. at 889. “What our case law declares, but our model jury instructions do not, is that if a defendant has a mental disease or defect, its origins are irrelevant: it does not matter whether the disease or defect arose from genetics, from a childhood disease or accident, from lead poisoning, from the use of prescription medication, or from the chronic use of alcohol or illegal drugs. . . . A drug-induced mental disease or defect still constitutes a mental disease or defect for purposes of a criminal responsibility defense.” Id. at 880–81 (citation omitted). “Intoxication from alcohol or the high from drugs is not a mental disease or defect where the loss of capacity ends when the effects of the alcohol or drug wear off; a mental disease or defect is something more enduring, reflecting something about the person’s brain chemistry that, although perhaps not permanent, is more than the transient effect of the person’s substance use,” he wrote. Id. at 880. The Court again included provisionally revised model jury instructions “to address what we conclude is a potential and problematic risk of confusion.” Id. at 873, 884–89.

As a final example, a district court judge’s ruling that a defendant violated a condition of probation by reporting on a sex offender registration form that his work address was his home—without also reporting as a work address a home in Lynn where he was doing repair work—came under scrutiny in Commonwealth v. Harding, 485 Mass. 843 (2020), released on October 5. The Court reversed in an opinion authored by the Chief Justice, where his search for what he would term “sensible” outcomes is clear: “The interpretation [of ‘work address’] that the Commonwealth asks us to adopt would suggest that a registrant who is self-employed might not be self-employed at all, because each client for whom the registrant provided services for the requisite time period would be deemed the employer, whose address the registrant would be required to record. No reasonable registrant filling out this form would understand the form to ask for this information. Nor would the Commonwealth’s interpretation make practical sense.” Id. at 847. “[I]f the defendant, or other self-employed registrants like him, were required to provide a client’s address as a ‘work address,’” he continued, “many clients who might otherwise hire him might refrain from doing so because they might not want their home address listed on SORB’s website as the sex offender’s place of employment. As a result, the otherwise self-employed sex offender might soon be functionally unemployed.” Id. at 849.

Ralph Gants ended his tenure as Chief Justice as he began it. In remarks delivered when he took the oath of office on July 28, 2014 he said: “I firmly believe that our judicial system will be in a better place in the next three, five, ten years. My confidence does not rest in my belief in me, because I know that I can accomplish none of this alone. My confidence rests in my belief in we, in what I call our justice team. . . . If we are willing to search for new ways to solve old problems, if we are willing to put our egos aside and remember that it is not about us, if we are willing to work our tails off, if we are willing to work together, I know that we can build a justice system that will not only dispense fair, sensible, and efficient justice, that will not only help to address the formidable problems faced by so many of the residents of this Commonwealth, but that will be a model for the nation and for the world.”

Ralph Gants searched for new ways to solve old problems. He worked his tail off. He put aside his ego and worked with others to build a model judicial system. In oft-cited remarks, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., then an Associate Justice on the Supreme Judicial Court, said: “The law is the calling of thinkers. But to those who believe with me that not the least godlike of man’s activities is the large survey of causes, that to know is not less than to feel, I say—and I say no longer with any doubt—that a man may live greatly in the law as well as elsewhere; that there as well as elsewhere his thought may find its unity in an infinite perspective; that there as well as elsewhere he may wreak himself upon life, may drink the bitter cup of heroism, may wear his heart out after the unattainable. . . .” Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants wore his heart out seeking to address the formidable problems faced by so many. He wreaked himself upon life. Why? He was simply being Ralph.

[1] The Justices first approved and recommended the use of Model Jury Instructions on Homicide in 1999. The Court issued revised Model Jury Instructions in 2013. In April 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court again released revised Model Jury Instructions on Homicide.

Margaret H. Marshall is Senior Counsel at Choate Hall & Stewart LLP. She served as Associate Justice (1996–1999) and as Chief Justice (1999–2010) of the Supreme Judicial Court.

Marina Pullerits is an Associate at Choate Hall & Stewart LLP. She served as a law clerk (2018–2019) to Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.


Aligning Science and Law in the Realm of Eyewitness Identification Evidence

by Eric A. Haskell*

Legal Analysis

This article represents the opinions and legal conclusions of its author and not necessarily those of the Office of the Attorney General.  Opinions of the Attorney General are formal documents rendered pursuant to specific statutory authority.

On February 6, 2009, eight days after then-associate Justice Ralph Gants joined the Supreme Judicial Court, the court heard argument in Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, an appeal from a murder conviction in which the defendant challenged the reliability of photographic arrays that had led several eyewitnesses to identify him as the killer.  Although not apparent at the time, Silva-Santiago marked the first step of an effort that would transform the relationship between scientific knowledge and the law of identification evidence in Massachusetts.  That effort was the work of Chief Justice Gants, and it forms a remarkable part of his legacy.

The rudiments of that effort were visible in Justice Gants’s opinion for the court in Silva-Santiago, which was released later that spring.[1]  That opinion rejected the defendant’s contention, for which there had been expert evidence at trial, that the identifications were unreliable and should not have been admitted into evidence because the photographs used in the arrays were shown to the eyewitnesses simultaneously rather than sequentially.  Citing two law review articles and an article published by the American Psychological Association, Justice Gants acknowledged a “debate among scholars and practitioners [as to] whether the sequential showing of photographs leads to greater accuracy” over a simultaneous showing, and concluded that, “[w]hile that debate evolves,” identifications produced through either procedure would be admissible.

This rationale was both curious and significant.  The legal issue in Silva-Santiago was whether the identifications were so “unnecessarily suggestive” as to offend due process.  Why look to an academic debate to resolve that legal issue, especially when expert evidence bearing on the answer was present in the record?  And why seek conclusiveness in that academic debate before declaring an answer as a matter of law?  In retrospect, Justice Gants’s reasoning in Silva-Santiago hinted at his ambition to align the law with the science behind identification evidence.

Two years later, in Commonwealth v. Walker, Justice Gants wrote for the court to again reject the argument that the court had rejected in Silva-Santiago.[2]  But Justice Gants’s opinion in Walker also took the next step: characterizing identification evidence as “the greatest source of wrongful convictions but also an invaluable law enforcement tool in obtaining accurate convictions,” it announced that a study group would be charged, among other things, with considering a new model jury instruction on “evaluating eyewitness testimony.

The SJC had adopted a model instruction on identification evidence in 1979,[3] and had periodically modified it thereafter.[4] That instruction exhorted the jury, when evaluating whether the government had proven the defendant’s identity as the perpetrator, to take into account certain abstract and neutral considerations such as the identifying eyewitness’s opportunity to observe the perpetrator, the circumstances surrounding the identification, and the eyewitness’s overall credibility.

The study group created after Walker returned its report in the summer of 2013.[5]  The report urged the SJC to take “judicial notice” of certain “psychological principles” concerning the mechanisms of memory and recall, as well as of factors that were said to diminish the reliability of those mechanisms.  It also proposed a new jury instruction that, beyond reciting abstract considerations, would instruct the jury as to many of the same scientific principles and factors of which judicial notice was urged.

It is important to appreciate the nature of the study group’s proposal.  Juries, of course, deal with science all the time, in the form of expert evidence that the court has deemed likely to be helpful in determining the facts of the particular case.[6] But what the study group proposed was qualitatively different: its proposal was, in effect, to adopt certain scientific knowledge as legal precepts to be applied in all cases.  That the scientific principles urged by the study group were well-established in the literature perhaps obscured a lurking tension: while scientific knowledge is factual in nature, iterative, and falsifiable, jury instructions are legal in nature, immutable, and to be accepted by the jury as true.

Justice Gants was promoted in the summer of 2014 and, on September 2 of that year, presided over his first arguments as Chief Justice.  Featured on the calendar that day were four appeals concerning aspects of eyewitness identification.  Chief Justice Gants wrote the opinion of the court in each of them.

Three of those opinions invoked and relied upon the science urged by the study group.[7]  But it was the fourth opinion, in Commonwealth v. Gomes,[8] that transformed the relationship between the science and the law of eyewitness identification evidence, for Gomes presented the issue of what jury instruction ought to be given concerning such evidence.

In Gomes, Chief Justice Gants adopted a highly modified version of the study group’s proposal.  The resulting jury instruction, which was appended to the Gomes opinion, continued to exhort the jury to consider things such as the witness’s opportunity to view the perpetrator and the quality of the witness’s perception.  But it additionally limned a three-stage scientific “process of remembering,” and identified situation-specific factors—such as “the visible presence of a weapon . . . if the crime is of short duration,” “high levels of stress [felt by the eyewitness], compared to low to medium levels,” and “information the [eyewitness] received between the incident and the identification, as well as after the identification”—that, juries were to be instructed, would diminish the reliability of the identification.  Chief Justice Gants explained that it was appropriate to incorporate these precepts into the “judge’s instructions of law, which the jury generally must accept,” because “there is a near consensus in the relevant scientific community . . . .”

The Gomes instruction represented an unprecedented infusion of scientific principles into the judge’s instructions of law.  But it could not be said to perfectly align the science with the law because, as noted, science is dynamic and is susceptible of being disproven.  Chief Justice Gants was mindful of these limitations, acknowledging that “even a principle for which there is near consensus is subject to revision based on further research findings, and that no principle of eyewitness identification should be treated as if set in stone.”  Anticipating the possibility that the principles embodied in the Gomes instruction might be disputed or overtaken by later research, his opinion authorized litigants to offer expert evidence to challenge, and potentially supersede, the instruction.  And, acknowledging that, “as the science evolves, we may need to revise our new model instruction[],” his opinion reconstituted a committee on eyewitness identification to monitor the development of the science and recommend updates.

The influence of Chief Justice Gants’s efforts to align the law with the science of identification evidence is visible in later SJC decisions that:

  • Presumptively required an instruction that “people may have greater difficulty in accurately identifying someone of a different race than someone of their own race,” unless all parties agreed that no such instruction is appropriate;[9]
  • Going beyond identification evidence, deemed advances in scientific understanding of the “shaken baby syndrome” as potential grounds for granting a new trial;[10] and
  • Looked to “the latest advances in scientific research on adolescent brain development and its impact on behavior” to inform the definition of cruel and unusual punishment vis-à-vis late-teenaged offenders.[11]

Chief Justice Gants’s efforts on this score not only changed the law, they changed the relationship between science and the law in the Commonwealth.  As the influence of these changes continues to reverberate, they showcase Justice Gants’s wisdom in recognizing both the promise and the limitations of science in helping to improve justice.

Eric A. Haskell is an Assistant Attorney General whose practice encompasses both civil and criminal matters. He recalls fondly his argument before Chief Justice Gants in Boston Globe Media Partners LLC v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, No. SJC-12681. That argument lasted approximately forty minutes, despite having been scheduled for fifteen—and it was not the longest argument presented in that case that morning!

*This article represents the opinions and legal conclusions of its author and not necessarily those of the Office of the Attorney General.  Opinions of the Attorney General are formal documents rendered pursuant to specific statutory authority.

[1] 453 Mass. 782 (2009).

[2] 460 Mass. 590 (2011) (“[I]t is still too soon to conclude that sequential display is so plainly superior that any identification arising from a simultaneous display is unnecessarily suggestive and therefore must be suppressed.”).

[3] Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 378 Mass. 296 (1979).

[4] Commonwealth v. Cuffie, 414 Mass. 632 (1993); Commonwealth v. Santoli, 424 Mass. 837 (1997); see also Commonwealth v. Pressley, 390 Mass. 617 (1983).

[5] https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/08/ql/eyewitness-evidence-report-2013.pdf.

[6] See generally Mass. G. Evid. § 702.

[7] Commonwealth v. Crayton, 470 Mass. 228 (2014); Commonwealth v. Collins, 470 Mass. 255 (2014); Commonwealth v. Johnson, 470 Mass. 389 (2015).

[8] 470 Mass. 352 (2015).

[9]    Commonwealth v. Bastaldo, 472 Mass. 16 (2015).

[10] Commonwealth v. Epps, 474 Mass. 743 (2016).

[11] Commonwealth v. Watt, 484 Mass. 742 (2020).


Interview with Robert Vitale

by Stephen Riden

Viewpoint

As chair of the Boston Bar Journal, I had the opportunity to talk with Robert Vitale, Chief Court Officer of the Supreme Judicial Court, about his professional and personal relationship with Chief Justice Gants. What follows is an excerpt of our discussion, condensed and edited for clarity. 

Q: Over the years you must have met a lot of judges. What was your first impression of Justice Gants?

 A: Yes, I have. However, Chief Justice Gants stood out because I could tell he was a very kind and caring person. It was easy to see how passionate he was about his work and that he had a great sense of humor.

Q: How would you generally describe Justice Gants?

A: I would describe him as an all-around great guy and a good friend. He was very humble, compassionate, and intelligent. He cared about everybody. He had endless energy. Frankly, I don’t know how he kept up the schedule he did. I feel like he worked twenty hours a day seven days a week.

Q: Could you provide an example?

 A: In addition to his regular work schedule, he made it a point to go out and visit different courts around the state. The purpose for the visits was so that he could meet as many court employees as possible.

Typically, the visit would start with a small meet and greet with the court’s ”management team,” the judges, magistrates, registrars, chiefs and assistant chiefs of probation and security. He would discuss a variety of issues and answer any questions they had.

From there, assuming the court had a jury pool, he always wanted to address the jurors. He wanted to thank them for their service and let them know the importance of the work they were doing for the Commonwealth.

He would then take a tour of the court. This would include going to each department and stopping by everyone’s desk to say hello. He did not want to disturb anyone, but he wanted to meet as many employees as possible to say hello and thank them for the important work that they do every day.

In addition to meeting the staff, he always wanted to have an employee luncheon. This was his favorite part of the visit. The luncheon was only for “line” staff, not management. He said it was important for him to meet the employees who are in the trenches and on the front lines. He always told them that he valued their perspective and that they should not hold back on their opinions. He wanted to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. He took notes and let the staff know that whatever was said at the luncheon was confidential and that he appreciated their honesty.

Q: He seems like the kind of guy who could talk to anyone, is that right?

A: Absolutely. I would say that, given the position he was in, I don’t think you ever felt like you were talking to the Chief Justice – he was just so easy to talk to. He had a great sense of humor, he was quick witted, and he never took himself too seriously.

Q: What can you share about how he treated lawyers who appeared before him?

A: He treated everybody with respect. If he disagreed with an attorney, he always did it respectfully and did not embarrass anyone. For him, it was always about being fair, respectful and trying to get the right result.

Q: I understand that he was always looking for opportunities to make improvements to the court system. Did you observe that in your interactions with him?

A: Absolutely. He was always open to hearing new ideas. If something wasn’t working, you were free to tell him it wasn’t working and why you thought it wasn’t. He did not have the “my way or the highway” mentality. He would always ask, “what can we do to fix it?”

Q: Do you have a sense of what else he wanted to accomplish?

A: One of the things that he was most passionate about was access to justice. He worked tirelessly to promote and expand access to the courts for everyone in the Commonwealth.

At the time of his death, he was working on several issues that were priorities for him. These included the Massachusetts Eviction Moratorium that was set to expire on October 18, racial injustice, and criminal justice reform.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: Chief Justice Gants was an avid sports fan. He followed all the New England sports teams but he really loved the Boston Red Sox. On July 28, 2014, he was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Red Sox played the Toronto Blue Jays.

He told me he had been practicing to make sure that he didn’t bounce the ball before the plate. He was both excited and nervous at the same time but it was such an honor to have been asked.

Lastly, I would say that we are all going to miss him, certainly those of us who worked closely with him every day. This is a huge loss for the court system in general. He wasn’t just my boss and colleague, he was also my friend.

Stephen Riden is a commercial litigator at Beck Reed Riden LLP, who represents corporate and individual clients in a wide array of disputes across the country. He is the chair of the Boston Bar Journal.


Access to Justice: Reflections on Chief Justice Gants

by Susan M. Finegan

Viewpoint

It was a privilege to partner so closely with Chief Justice Gants on access to justice initiatives over the past ten years, having served with him for ten years as a member of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission (commission), and then as his commission co-chair.  Throughout his time on the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), he cared so deeply about access to justice, constantly thinking strategically about ways to make the civil justice system more accessible and fair.  Soon after his appointment as an associate justice of the SJC, Chief Justice Marshall approached him to become the co-chair of the commission.  This new role was his first engagement with civil legal aid and access to justice issues; true to form, he rolled up his sleeves to learn as much as possible, and energetically set to work.  Four years later, during the appointment process for the Chief Justice position, he filled at least two pages of his application describing the various commission projects on which he collaborated with so many during his first years on the commission.  In fact, in answering the judicial application question, “What are you most proud of?,”  he listed his work as co-chair of the commission first.  Certainly he did not lack for other professional achievements in his decades-long, storied career as a trial lawyer and trial and appellate judge, but his commission work clearly embodied the essence of what was truly important to him, as a judge and a person.  

His emphasis on collaboration and teamwork was one of the hallmarks of his commission work.  Throughout his tenure as co-chair, he encouraged people to work with him and engaged deeply with them – applying his laser focus and astonishing work ethic to every project.  He relished working with the impressive and committed people of the commission, many of whom he had not met before joining, and likely would never have met had he not been asked to take on the co-chair role.  He made the work enjoyable, too, by connecting with people on a human level, not just as Chief.  He mixed his dry sense of humor with a dizzying familiarity of outdated cultural references and an encyclopedic knowledge of sports.   

During his Chief Justice nomination period, he spoke several times about life lessons learned from his parents.  The first was from his father, a French and German wine salesman to restaurants and liquor stores in New York.  His father was always mindful of the concept of continued performance, saying often, “They don’t care what you did last year; they care what you are going to do this year.”  The Chief Justice took that advice to heart in all of the work that we did together.  He was an energetic man of action – on the commission, as Chief Justice, and nationally.

On the commission, for the better part of the last decade, he pushed us to be a “working” commission, transforming the organization into a more proactive organization.  Every summer, he loved holding commission retreats at his house to develop a strategic plan of action for the coming year.  He encouraged us in those meetings to think deeply with him about the important issues we faced, insisting that we left the retreat with three or four actionable goals that we could achieve by year’s end, and, inevitably, with an overflowing bag of leftover muffins and sandwiches. 

He would often say to me that the commission needed to do things, not just create reports to have them “collect dust on shelves.”  So, when we did produce reports, they had to have a purpose.  A prime example of this is a report we worked on together four years ago, the Justice For All Strategic Action Plan.  This project involved putting on paper a vision for the how the courts could transform how they handled those case types – family law, housing law, and consumer debt – where a majority of the litigants were unrepresented.  We were one of the first states to work on such a project, so there was no blueprint for how it was supposed to be framed.  We spent a year conducting outreach, convening committee meetings, and holding retreats.  Then the time came, around Thanksgiving, to start drafting.  When the consultant we had hired to produce the first draft left the project unexpectedly, the Chief Justice did not miss a beat: he just rolled up his sleeves with a small team of us and started drafting.  Then, as any experienced appellate judge would do, he started editing, and then continued editing, and editing some more.  I never admitted this to him, but I was quite satisfied with the report on the twentieth round of edits, but he insisted that we continue, through Christmas Eve, to round twenty-five.  The action-oriented plan we finalized has served as a blueprint for much of our commission’s work for the last four years, and will for the years to come.

He also used his role as co-chair of the commission to advocate for changes in the court system.  For example, several years ago, he asked commissioners to draft a report on a relatively new concept established by a few other states called “court service centers,” which could assist unrepresented litigants.  That report, authored by commissioner (and former BBA president) Tony Doniger, helped lay the groundwork for the court to fund two pilot court service centers the following year.   Likewise, the Chief leaned on the commission at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting court building closures, to provide constructive feedback on the court user experience during that time. 

He carried his passion for access to justice through to his work on the SJC.  He used his judicial role to ensure that the voiceless in the court system had a voice.  And he availed himself of every tool at his disposal, including: drafting opinions that impacted low income litigants; making rule changes that were equitable for all litigants, including the unrepresented; and expanding the court budget to increase the number of court service centers to assist more unrepresented litigants.  He used his many speaking opportunities, such as the annual State of the Judiciary, to advocate for the racial justice, civil rights, criminal justice reform, and access to justice, issues about which he cared deeply.  As he observed in his most recent State of the Judiciary address:

Until we create a world in which all who need counsel in civil cases have access to counsel, we must do all we can to make the court system more understandable and accessible for the many litigants who must represent themselves.

He was also a man of action on the national stage.  As a dynamic member and leader of the Conference of Chief Justices and of the Justice For All Initiative, he deftly pressed other state courts to make justice more accessible to all.  He created conference agendas and suggested keynote speakers to have other judges think about issues impacting those marginalized by the justice system.  He also drafted policy resolutions addressing access to justice, consumer debt, and racial justice.  Then, he used his political savvy to figure out the best way to ensure they were adopted, which often meant strategically asking someone else to take the lead in promoting the resolution.  In his application to be considered for Chief Justice, he said:  “I would like to believe that, if named as Chief Justice, I could play a national leadership role in advocating for access to justice, because I think Massachusetts is becoming a national leader in exploring innovative ways to provide access to all.”  He lived out that aspirational goal through his actions and words every day he served as Chief Justice.

Another life lesson he shared during his nomination process was from his mother, who judged everyone by how they treated others.  The highest praise she could give to a person of accomplishment was that he “was a regular guy.”  As in, “that Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine, but he was just a regular guy.”  He took that advice to heart in the way that he focused on how a typical court user would experience walking through the courthouse doors.  In fact, he had a favorite hypothetical litigant, Mrs. Alvarado, a low income single mother of two who lived with her disabled mother.  He used this example to educate himself, and others, to better understand how she would experience the courts in her family’s high stakes eviction process.

Living his mother’s credo, as the Chief Justice, he could have stayed in his ornate office on the second floor of the Adams Courthouse, and bask in his many accomplishments, yet he chose to venture out, physically and emotionally, to focus on those in our community who did not have access to such privilege.  He felt a great responsibility as Chief Justice and as the leader of the court system to try to understand what it was like to come to court with no attorney, with no facility with language, with insecure immigration status, or with no access to technology.  He was especially concerned about the “court user experience” during his last seven months, during the pandemic, when access to court buildings was closed to most litigants and self-represented litigants had to figure out how to find and use remote court systems.  He valiantly worked with other court leaders to address the many challenges the court system faced.  He sought out feedback – the good and the bad – to make improvements where he could, noting that it was imperative for the court to know what was happening on the ground. 

He continued to think about those litigants in the final months, and moments, of his life, when he focused almost exclusively on the looming eviction crisis resulting from the pandemic and the ensuing economic recession.  He had previously described this eviction crisis as “the greatest access to justice challenge of our lifetime.”  On the morning of his death, the Chief Justice and I spoke for more than a half hour about his deep concerns on the eviction front, strategizing on solutions as we often would.  I take some solace in the fact that he spent the last hours of his incredible life using the gift of his intellect and the privilege of his power as Chief to help the many desperate people impacted by this pandemic.  

In one of his last speeches as Chief Justice, at the Access to Justice Fellows “graduation” event this past June, he quoted from the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities, which he said described the first months of the pandemic:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …

His examples of the “worst of times” in that speech were, of course, numerous – including the pandemic itself, widespread economic insecurity, and systemic racism.  He noted, however, that there was an undercurrent of the “best of times” in that the pandemic presented an opportunity for the court system – and, indeed, for all of us – to begin to “transform ourselves in ways that we never really have had to do before.”  It was a time, “in which not only do we need people’s commitment, but also we need people’s imagination, to find new ways to do things,” collectively and collaboratively.  The Chief further noted that, even though the times were challenging, “we will emerge from this stronger.”  I must admit that it will be much harder to emerge from this stronger without his indispensable leadership.  I also know that, more than anything else, he would insist that we all continue to do our part to provide greater access to justice for all because there is still so much unfinished work.

I’ll close this reflection with a nod to his mother: “that Ralph Gants was a brilliant jurist; a national voice for access to justice; an indispensable leader of the court system; a beloved figure to so many yet also a great friend to those close to him; but, most of all, a regular guy.”

Susan M. Finegan is a litigation partner and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Mintz.  As the firm’s pro bono partner, she serves as lead counsel on numerous high profile pro bono litigation matters and oversees the 300+ pro bono matters throughout the firm.  Sue is active on many boards and commissions, including as a member and current co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.


Owning The Space: A Candid Conversation with Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Kimberly S. Budd

by Sophia Hall and Justice Kimberly S. Budd

Voice of Judiciary
*This interview is a companion piece to “Walk in My Shoes: A Day in the Life of a Black Woman Attorney” by Danielle Johnson.

 

I was fortunate to recently talk with Justice Kimberly S. Budd about her career path and her experiences as a woman of color in the legal profession.

SH: What drew you to the law?

KB: I was lucky in that my Dad was a lawyer so he exposed me to the law. I have to admit, though, that when I was a kid, I did not really have an understanding of what a lawyer did. I do remember going in to work with him on the weekends, and helping him by pulling files. That’s what I grew up in. When I graduated from college, I went on to law school because I didn’t know what else to do (I majored in English). In hindsight, I wish I had taken a year to work between college and law school. I felt really young and inexperienced in law school.

SH: Has your identity as a woman of color affected your experience as a judge?

KB: I think it is fair to say that being a woman of color affects every part of my life, including being a judge.  The piece written by Danielle Johnson about her experiences in Housing Court brought back similar memories of my experience as a young litigator.  I have been mistaken for a defendant’s girlfriend by a court officer, and have been underestimated by countless numbers of opposing counsel over the years.

As a judge in Superior Court, it was clear that attorneys, litigants and jurors were not expecting to see a Black woman judge when they came into the courtroom.  I remember one particular afternoon I was sitting in a civil motion session in Middlesex County and working with a Black woman courtroom clerk and a Black woman court officer.  I think those who had business in the “D” session that afternoon were surprised to see our team!

When I handled criminal cases, many of the defendants were Black.  I like to believe that it made a difference for them to see someone who looked like them on the bench,  especially if everyone else in the courtroom was White.

SH: What was your experience with Judicial Evaluations?

KB: State court trial judges are evaluated periodically by practitioners who are surveyed anonymously.  The evaluations have both objective and subjective components, resulting in a numerical rating, and written comments. In 2014 a review of the judicial evaluations showed that judges who were of color and women judges consistently received lower ratings than White male judges.  Attempts were made to figure out how to account for bias, implicit or otherwise.  We haven’t come up with a solution, and I’m not sure that there is one.  The evaluations reflect the biases that exist in our society.

I have to admit that whenever I received my evaluation results, it was difficult to look at the comments.  Many were good, but it was the negative ones that consumed my attention.  After my first evaluation I stopped looking at the written comments altogether.

SH: You are the third African American ever appointed to the SJC, correct?

KB: Yes, and the second Black woman. Chief Justice Rodrick Ireland was the first African American appointed to the court in 1997 (the first in the Court’s over 304 year history).  He subsequently became the Chief Justice in 2010.  He was an excellent chief—and a great leader; everyone thought he did an amazing job. He was cognizant of the fact that his performance likely would affect the way judges of color who came after him would be perceived.. When Chief Justice Ireland retired, Justice Geraldine Hines replaced him and was the first African American woman.

SH: Can you describe your relationship with Justice Hines?

KB: I have been fortunate to know Gerri for a long time.  She started in the Superior Court, back in 2001.  I remember attending her swearing in ceremony when she first became a judge and being so excited for her and for the Commonwealth.  Little did I know that eight years later I would be her colleague on the Superior Court.  She was my mentor there, and again when I joined the SJC.  It makes such a difference when you have someone in your corner showing you how to do the job, answering your questions and rooting for you to succeed. Her presence on the SJC when I arrived was huge. And her absence is still felt (she retired in 2017).  She is only a phone call away though!

SH: The future of the SJC. Do you see more diversity coming?

KB: I sure hope so.

I would hate to think that anyone would use my presence on the Court to support an idea I am one of just a handful of people of color who are qualified to be a Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.  That certainly is not the case.  I also cringe when I think there are some who might believe that I am here only because they needed a Black person to fill a slot. Even though diversity and inclusion are and should be priorities for the Commonwealth’s judiciary system and in many workplaces, I believe that I hold my own on the SJC. I am not just taking up space.  And like Danielle, I work every day to prove it.

 

Kimberly S. Budd is an Associate Justice for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), where she has served for nearly four years, and a former Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court. She was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor Devall Patrick in 2009. Justice Budd was a litigation associate at Mintz Levin, an Assistant United States Attorney in the United Stated Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, and a University Attorney for Harvard University in the General Counsel’s Office. She also worked at Harvard Business School as the Director of Community Values. Justice Budd earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Georgetown University and her law degree from Harvard Law School.


Can Law Enforcement Officers Commit Any Crime While Off-Duty and Retain Their Pension?

by Michael Sacco

Case Focus

In a unanimous decision in two companion cases, Essex Regional Retirement Board v. Swallow and State Board of Retirement v. O’Hare, 481 Mass. 241 (2019) (Swallow/O’Hare), the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has determined that a law enforcement officer will not be required to forfeit his pension after a criminal conviction unless there is a direct link — either factual or legal — between the officer’s off-duty conduct and his position. This is the same standard to which other public employees in Massachusetts are held. This decision startled many in the public pension community. Only the legislature may change the standard to which law enforcement officers are held, by expanding the pension forfeiture statute’s narrow scope.

A Brief History of the Public Pension Forfeiture Law

Pension forfeiture provisions have existed in the retirement statute since the retirement law was codified in Chapter 32 of the Massachusetts General Lawsin 1945. The statute states that if a public employee is convicted of certain enumerated statutory offenses or misappropriation of the employer’s funds or property, the employee forfeits any right to a pension and receives a return of any contributions made to their annuity savings account. In 1986 however, the SJC held in Collatos v. Boston Retirement Board396 Mass. 684 (1986), that the legislature intended G. L. c. 32, § 15 (3A) to require forfeiture of a public employee’s pension only if the employee was convicted of two state crimes, G. L. c. 268A, § 2 (corrupt gifts, offers or promises to influence official acts, corruption of witnesses) and G. L. c. 265, § 25 (attempted extortion), and thus the  public employee’s guilty plea to violating 18 U.S.C. Section 1951 (extortion) would not require pension forfeiture. The SJC construed the statute narrowly because of its penal character.

Shortly after the Collatos decision, the legislature amended the statute by inserting G. L. c. 32, § 15 (4), which provided an intermediate level of pension forfeiture if the criminal conviction was a “violation of the laws applicable to his office or position.” While Section 15 (3A) required a complete forfeiture of pension rights, Section 15 (4) provided that a pension forfeiture would entitle the public employee to a return of his accumulated total deductions (funds withheld from the employee’s weekly check and paid to the retirement system), less any interest accrued thereon.

The first SJC decision interpreting Section 15 (4) was Gaffney v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, 423 Mass. 1 (1996). In Gaffney, the SJC held that a pension forfeiture was warranted when the superintendent of the Shrewsbury water and sewer department was convicted of larceny by common scheme for stealing the Town’s money and property. Id. The SJC acknowledged that the legislature did not intend that a pension forfeiture should follow any and all criminal convictions. Id. at 5. Rather, “the substantive touchstone intended by the General Court is criminal activity connected with the office or position. . . . Looking to the facts of each case for a direct link between the criminal offense and the member’s office or position best effectuates the legislative intent of § 15 (4).” Id. In Gaffney, the direct factual link between his employment and his criminal conviction was clear, and thus pension forfeiture was warranted.

Criminal Activity Not Limited to On-Duty Conduct

In Maher v. Justices of the Quincy Division of the District Court Department, 67 Mass. App. Ct. 612 (2006), the Appeals Court determined that a public employee’s off-duty criminal conduct can result in pension forfeiture even if the criminal conviction did not involve a violation of a statute that specifically pertains to public employees or, unlike Gaffney, did not involve misappropriating the employer’s funds or property. In Maher, the plaintiff was the chief plumbing and gas inspector for the City of Quincy. Id. at 613. He and another city employee broke into and entered the personnel office at city hall. There, the plaintiff reviewed his personnel file and stole a document or documents from the file. A few weeks later, a new mayor took office. The plaintiff took superannuation retirement and subsequently pleaded guilty breaking and entering in the daytime with intent to commit a felony, wanton destruction of property, and stealing personnel records and various documents. Id. His pension was forfeited, and the Appeals Court upheld the pension forfeiture, specifically referencing Gaffney and stating that the statutory requirement that the criminal activity be connected with the office or position “does not mean that the crime itself must reference public employment or the employee’s particular position or responsibilities.” Id. at 616.

The Durkin and Finneran Decisions

Similarly in Durkin v. Boston Retirement Board, 83 Mass. App. Ct. 116 (2013), a law enforcement officer’s off-duty conduct resulted in forfeiture of his pension. Paul Durkin was a Boston Police Officer who became inebriated off-duty and used his service revolver to shoot a fellow off-duty police officer who was giving him a ride home. Id. at 117. Durkin pleaded guilty to assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and the Boston Retirement Board forfeited his rights to a pension. Id. The Appeals Court upheld the retirement board’s decision, noting that “Durkin engaged in the very type of criminal behavior he was required by law to prevent. This violation was directly related to his position as a police officer as it demonstrated a violation of the public’s trust as well as a repudiation of his official duties. Clearly, at the heart of a police officer’s role is the unwavering obligation to protect life, which Durkin himself recognized at his hearing. His extreme actions violated the integrity of the system which he was sworn to uphold.” Id. at 119.

In State Board of Retirement v. Finneran, 476 Mass. 714 (2017), the SJC discussed the pension forfeiture statute’s twenty-year evolution into two recognized types of “direct links” between a public employee’s position and the crime committed: factual links and legal links. In cases involving factual links, a public employee’s pension is subject to forfeiture under Section 15 (4) only when there is a direct factual connection between the public employee’s crime and position. Id. at 720-21. Surprisingly, the court cited the Durkin case as an example of a direct factual link, noting that that crime had been committed with the police officer’s service revolver. Id. at 721. In cases involving direct legal links, forfeiture is mandated under Section 15 (4) when a public employee commits a crime directly implicating a statute that applies to the employee’s position. Id.

Swallow and O’Hare in the Appeals Court

The Durkin and Finneran decisions implied that the plaintiff in Durkin may have kept his pension had he merely committed the offense with his personal weapon. In Swallow, a police officer who was on administrative leave was with his wife at their home. Swallow/O’Hare, 481 Mass. at 243. Swallow was drinking heavily and, after an argument, he grabbed his wife by the shirt, yelled at her, and waved his personal handgun in her face. Id. As she left the home and walked to a neighbor’s driveway, she heard a single gunshot. Id. Swallow was subsequently arrested and ultimately pleaded guilty to assault and battery, discharge of a firearm within 500 feet of a building, assault by means of a dangerous weapon, multiple counts of improper storage of a firearm, and intimidation of a witness. Id. The retirement board forfeited Swallow’s pension, largely relying on Durkin. Id. Although the District and Superior Courts reversed the retirement board’s decision, the Appeals Court reinstated it, noting that Swallow’s “use of a gun to threaten another’s life violated the public’s trust and repudiated his official duties.” Id. at 244. See Essex Reg’l Ret. Bd. v. Justices of the Salem Div. of the Dist. Ct. Dep’t91 Mass. App. Ct. 755, 760 (2017).

Finally, in O’Hare, a state trooper communicated online with, and eventually arranged to meet with, an individual whom he believed to be a fourteen-year-old boy but was actually an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Swallow/O’Hare, 481 Mass. at 244. The FBI arrested O’Hare and he pleaded guilty to a charge of using the Internet to attempt to coerce and entice a child under the age of eighteen years to engage in unlawful sexual activity. Id. The retirement board forfeited O’Hare’s pension rights, finding that his conviction went “directly to the heart” of his responsibilities and obligations as a state police trooper. Id. The District and Superior Courts reversed the retirement board’s decision. Id. at 244-45. Like the posture of Swallow, the Appeals Court reversed, holding that forfeiture was required because O’Hare’s conduct violated the fundamental tenets of his role as a state police trooper, because protecting the vulnerable, including children, is at the heart of a police officer’s role, and this repudiation of his official duties violated the public’s trust and the integrity of the Massachusetts State Police. Id. at 245. See State Bd. of Ret. v. O’Hare92 Mass. App. Ct. 555, 559 (2017).

SJC Changes Course

As perhaps prophetically foretold in the reference to Durkin in the Finneran case, the SJC reversed both Swallow and O’Hare along similar lines. With respect to Swallow, the SJC held the retirement board should not have relied on Durkin for the proposition that forfeiture is mandatory after “a police officer violates the public trust and shirks his or her official duties.” Although Durkin discussed the fundamental nature of the police officer’s position and noted that the officer had violated the public trust by “engag[ing] in the very type of criminal behavior he was required by law to prevent,” forfeiture was ultimately grounded on the factual connections between the officer’s position and the criminal activity. Swallow/O’Hare, 481 Mass. at 251. In O’Hare, the SJC rejected the retirement board’s argument that there is an exception to the proposition that pension forfeiture should not follow “as a consequence of any and all criminal convictions” for law enforcement officials because of their “special position” in our society. In rejecting this position, the SJC stated emphatically, “[t]his is precisely the kind of unfettered breadth that we have consistently avoided.” Id. Accordingly, in both cases the SJC acknowledged the repugnant nature of the criminal offenses, but nevertheless reinstated the pensions. Id. at 254. In O’Hare, the SJC also summarily rejected the argument that there was a “legal link” between the criminal conduct and a violation of the “laws” applicable to State police. Id. at 252-53. The retirement board, relying on State Board of Retirement v. Bulger, 446 Mass. 169 (2006), in which the SJC found that perjury and obstruction of justice convictions violated the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts and thus were a violation of the laws applicable to the office or position, had posited that the “laws” applicable to State police include the rules and regulations issued by the colonel of the State police pursuant to G. L. c. 22C §§ 3 and 10. O’Hare at 252. It argued that they function as a “code of conduct” and require that State troopers “avoid conduct that brings the State police into disrepute and obey all laws of the United States and the local jurisdiction.” Id. at 252. Unpersuaded, the SJC found that if the legislature wanted to include rules and regulations that do not have the force of law, it would have said so, as it had in the preceding section of the statute. Id. at 252-53. The SJC distinguished the circumstances in Swallow and O’Hare from the holding in Bulger, where a clerk-magistrate committed perjury in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of Court — because the Code has “the force of law.” Id. at 253.

Many were surprised by the SJC’s refusal to hold police officers to the higher standard under pension forfeiture laws that had previously been applied to discharge for off-duty conduct, such as in Police Commissioner of Boston v. Civil Service Commission, 39 Mass. App. Ct. 594, 601 (1996) (officer lost his firearm while intoxicated and verbally abused other officers); McIsaac v. Civil Serv. Comm’n38 Mass. App. Ct. 473, 475-76 (1995) (officer negligently handled firearm while intoxicated and verbally abused other officers); Comm’rs of Civil Serv. v. Mun. Ct. of the Brighton Dist., 369 Mass. 166, 170-71 (1975), and Patuto v. Comm’rs of Civ. Ser., 429 U.S. 845 (1976) (upholding discharge of off-duty police officer who accompanied others while they uttered forged money orders). Perhaps less surprising is the SJC’s rejection of the argument that pension forfeiture can be triggered under Section 15 (4) by a violation of a rule or regulation or code of conduct which does not have the force of law. Implicit in its ruling, however, is that had the statute so provided, pension forfeiture would have surely resulted in O’Hare.

Looking Forward

Unless the legislature further amends Section 15 (4), police officers will be treated no differently than other public employees in assessing pension forfeiture for criminal activity. Interestingly, legislation has been filed to further restrict the scope of Section 15 (4). If enacted, it would limit a complete pension forfeiture to cases in which the prosecutor included such a penalty in the sentencing recommendation, and in the absence of such a recommendation, the local retirement board could implement a partial forfeiture based on its discretion and the facts and circumstances of the particular criminal conviction. In my view, the Legislature should follow the Court’s lead in extending the pension forfeiture’s statute’s reach to off-duty law enforcement officers’ conduct as it has in upholding employment termination proceedings. As the Appeals Court noted in Police Commissioner of Boston v. Civil Service Commission, 22 Mass. App. Ct. 364, 371 (1986): “Police officers must comport themselves in accordance with the laws that they are sworn to enforce and behave in a manner that brings honor and respect for rather than public distrust of law enforcement personnel. They are required to do more than refrain from indictable conduct. Police officers are not drafted into public service; rather, they compete for their positions. In accepting employment by the public, they implicitly agree that they will not engage in conduct which calls into question their ability and fitness to perform their official responsibilities.” See also Falmouth v. Civ. Serv. Comm’n, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 796, 801-802 (2004) (“[p]olice officers must … behave in a manner that brings honor and respect for rather than public distrust of law enforcement personnel.  This applies to off-duty as well as on-duty officers.”)  While I recognize the financial impact a pension forfeiture will often have on the pensioner’s family, that should be a consideration before the law enforcement officer commits a crime that puts their family at perilous financial risk.

 

Attorney Sacco founded the Law Offices of Michael Sacco, P.C. on March 20, 2006, having practiced in various Boston law firms in the preceding 12 years. Since entering private practice in 1994, Attorney Sacco’s practice has focused exclusively in the representation of public pension systems in Massachusetts.


The 2016 Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct: Judicial Engagement with the Organized Bar

cohen_cynthiaberenson_barbaraby Hon. Cynthia Cohen and Barbara F. Berenson

Heads Up

In October 2015, the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) adopted a new Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct, effective January 1, 2016 (“new Code” or “2016 Code”).  The new Code is the culmination of three years of study by a committee of judges, lawyers, and academics, who were appointed by the SJC to study the previous, 2003 Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct (“predecessor Code” or “2003 Code”) and to recommend changes in light of the American Bar Association’s 2007 Model Code (“2007 ABA Model Code”).  The committee was fortunate to have among its members three prominent bar leaders:  Attorney Lisa Goodheart and Professor Renee Landers, both past Presidents of the BBA, and Attorney Michael Greco, a past President of both the MBA and the ABA.  Bar associations and individual members of the bar also provided invaluable feedback and suggestions during the public comment period.

The 2016 Code differs substantially from the predecessor Code in both form and substance.  It closely resembles the 2007 ABA Model Code in structure and overall philosophy, but it also contains a significant number of nonconforming provisions, often because the departure is more suitable for a state that does not elect its judges.  A summary of key new and revised provisions is available for review on the website of the Massachusetts Judicial Branch, as is the committee’s Report.

An important difference between the 2016 Code and the predecessor Code pertains to judicial participation in outside activities.  To a large extent, the 2003 Code shielded judges from interactions with the public, in the belief that judicial isolation would best ensure the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.  In contrast, the 2016 Code recognizes the value and importance of judicial outreach and affirmatively encourages judges to participate in community activities, so long as they are consistent with a judge’s fundamental obligation to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and that avoids impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

This new philosophy is particularly evident in rules bearing on judicial engagement with the organized bar.  Early on, in Canon 1, the new Code makes clear that judges are affirmatively encouraged to “participate in activities that promote ethical conduct among judges and lawyers, support professionalism within the judiciary and the legal profession, and promote access to justice for all.”  Rule 1.2, Comment [4]. Later, in Canon 3, Rules 3.1 and 3.7 offer specific guidance concerning a judge’s participation in extrajudicial activities, including those of bar associations.  Rule 3.1 permits a judge to “engage in extrajudicial activities, except as prohibited by law or this Code,” albeit with some general cautions.  For example, the activities must not interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s judicial duties or lead to recurrent disqualification.  That said, as long as the concerns of Rule 3.1 are satisfied, Rule 3.7 encourages judges to participate in activities that “foster collegiality among the bar and communication and cooperation between the judiciary and the bar.”

This encouragement specifically extends to speaking about the administration of justice at bar association events.  Rule 3.7, Comment 1[B].  In a departure from the predecessor Code, a judge ordinarily may do so even when the event is held in space provided by a law firm or is financially supported by one or more for-profit entities, such as law firms or legal vendors, that do substantial business in the court on which the judge sits.  Ibid.  The rationale for this liberalization is that some bar associations, particularly affinity bar associations with smaller memberships, may not be in a financial position to hold events without the support of private sponsors or the use of law-firm space.  The Code cautions, however, that the judge must avoid giving the impression that the sponsors of an event are in a special position to influence the judge.  Rule 3.7, Comment [1A].

The 2016 Code also relaxes what had been an outright  prohibition on a judge serving as a featured speaker or receiving an award or other comparable recognition at a fundraising event of a law-related organization.  A judge is now permitted to speak or be honored if the event is sponsored by a law-related organization that promotes the general interests of the judicial branch of government or the legal profession, including enhancing the diversity and professionalism of the bar.  Rule 3.7(A)(6A).  As explained in Comment [4], general interest organizations include, for example, state bar associations, city or county bar associations, affinity bar associations, and bar associations that specialize in particular practice areas but whose members take positions on both sides of disputed issues.

The 2016 Code continues to prohibit a judge from serving as a featured speaker or receiving an award at other fundraising events, but more narrowly defines that term.  Under the new Code, a fundraising event is one where the organizers’ chief objectives include raising money to support the organization’s activities beyond the event itself; unless that definition is met, an event is not considered to be a fundraising event, even if the revenues from the event ultimately exceed the costs.  Rule 3.7, Comment [3].

The 2016 Code also modifies the rules governing a judge’s acceptance of invitations to attend without charge a luncheon, dinner, reception, award ceremony, or similar event held by a law-related organization in Massachusetts.  A judge may now accept such invitations without having to obtain a written determination from the Chief Justice of the court on which the judge sits that acceptance will serve a legitimate public purpose; instead, the Code presumes that a judge’s attendance at such events will serve a public purpose.  The intent of this provision is to make it less burdensome for judges and their Chief Justices to facilitate judicial attendance at local bar events.  In other instances, judges remain required to obtain determinations from their Chiefs before accepting complimentary invitations.  See Rule 3.14.

At the same time that the SJC adopted the new Code, it also revised SJC Rule 3:11, which governs the Committee on Judicial Ethics.  Among other things, the revised rule provides that the Justices may from time to time issue an Ethics Advisory to elucidate the meaning or application of a provision of the Code and to expound upon provisions that are of broad interest and application. SJC Rule 3:11(4).  Groups of judges and lawyers, including bar associations, may request an Ethics Advisory, but the court may decline to render one for any reasons it deems sufficient.  Ibid.  Although the Committee on Judicial Ethics will continue to render Informal Opinions and Letter Opinions (formerly known as Advisory Opinions) only to judges, by offering bar associations the opportunity to seek clarification of Code provisions, the new rule recognizes that issues of judicial ethics are of great interest and importance to the bar as well as the judiciary.

Hon. Cynthia J. Cohen is an Associate Justice of the Appeals Court.  She chaired the committee that drafted and recommended the adoption of the 2016 Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct, and currently chairs the Committee on Judicial Ethics.

Barbara F. Berenson is a senior attorney at the Supreme Judicial Court. She staffed the committee that drafted and recommended the adoption of the 2016 Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct, and is currently staff counsel to the Committee on Judicial Ethics.

 


The New “Documents Only” Subpoena Under Recently Amended Mass. R. Civ. P. 45

Maycotte_Carlosby Carlos A. Maycotte

Heads Up

Earlier this year, the Supreme Judicial Court amended Rule 45 of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, which concerns subpoenas. The main purpose of the amendments is to give Massachusetts practitioners the ability to issue “documents only” subpoenas to non-parties. Now, attorneys need no longer notice depositions of non-parties when the only goal is to obtain production of documents.

The amendments were effective as of April 1, 2015. Before that date, attorneys in Massachusetts followed a convoluted procedure: a notice of deposition and a subpoena duces tecum were served on a non-party, commanding that non-party to appear at a Keeper of the Records deposition with the specified documents. The non-party would instead send the documents outlined in the subpoena duces tecum (with a sworn certification) to the issuing attorney, who would then waive the non-party’s appearance at the deposition. The issuing attorney would then have the documents and the non-party would never appear at a deposition.

To streamline the process, the Supreme Judicial Court amended Mass. R. Civ. P. 45 to track the language of and the procedure described in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The amendment eliminates the superfluous steps described in the previous paragraph by creating a new class of subpoenas. Now, the attorney may serve a “documents only” subpoena, and the person receiving it “need not appear in person at the place of production or inspection unless also commanded to appear for a deposition, hearing, or trial.” The subpoenaed party can simply send the documents to the issuing attorney.

Where the previous incarnation of Mass. R. Civ. P. 45(a) provided generally that a subpoena shall “command each person to whom it is directed to attend and give testimony at a time and place therein specified,” the amended rule provides greater detail, stating that a subpoena shall “command each person to whom it is directed to do the following at a specified time and place: to attend and give testimony; to produce designated documents, electronically stored information, or tangible things in that person’s possession, custody, or control; or to permit inspection of premises.” By listing the several purposes for which a subpoena may be issued, the amendment has created new categories of subpoenas that can be targeted for a more economical civil practice.

The new procedure for issuing “documents only” subpoenas in the amended Mass. R. Civ. P. 45(b) further provides that commands to produce documents or electronically stored information may be set out in subpoenas separate from those that command attendance, and that the subpoena “may specify the form or forms in which electronically stored information is produced.” Practitioners will be able to use this provision to require that the document production be made in a specified format, so that they are able to compile and review documents more effectively.

The amended rule also provides certain protections for non-parties. The reporter’s notes recognize that the person receiving a subpoena may have “no stake in the case” and may not have the assistance of counsel. Thus, a party issuing a subpoena “must take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense on a person subject to the subpoena.” A non-party on whom a subpoena is issued has 10 days from the date of service to object to the subpoena and must serve the objection on all parties. After an objection has been made, the burden shifts to the issuing party, who must then justify the need for the documents via a motion to compel. In practice, Massachusetts courts have generally been protective of non-parties in the discovery context, and these protections will likely be reinforced by the amended rule.

At the same time, the amended Mass R. Civ. P. 45(c) specifies that the requirement to tender fees to a person served with a subpoena does not apply to cases where the person is not commanded to appear – meaning that while a non-party may have an easier time complying with a subpoena, he or she may not receive a fee, however nominal, for doing so.

Although the amendments to Mass R. Civ. P. 45 align the Massachusetts rule more closely to the federal rule, important differences remain. Mass R. Civ. P. 45(d)(1) provides that prior to the service of a “documents only” subpoena on a third person, a copy of the subpoena must be served on all parties to the case. This differs from the federal rule, which requires that both notice and a copy of the subpoena be served on all parties to the case. The Massachusetts rule eliminates an unnecessary step, allowing a copy of the subpoena to operate as adequate notice that a subpoena has been served. Unlike the federal rule, this provision in the Massachusetts rule also tasks the issuing party with serving copies of any objection to the subpoena on all parties. In addition, the issuing party must serve all other parties with either notice that a production was made or an actual copy of the documents produced.

These amendments should help make civil procedure more efficient. By eliminating the need to notice a deposition and issue a subpoena to non-parties from whom only documents are needed, less paperwork will be required from issuing parties. The streamlined procedure will save practitioners time, and clients, money. The amendment to Mass R. Civ. P. 45 should be well received by Massachusetts attorneys.

 

Carlos A. Maycotte is an associate at Sally & Fitch LLP, where he works primarily in the areas of family law, international arbitration and litigation, and general civil litigation.