Improper Admission of EvidenceConstitutional Law
Commonwealth v. Jones, No. SJC-11775 (Mass. Sep. 21, 2015)
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court addressed whether the admission of expert testimony concerning rape kit testing performed on the victim by a nurse who did not testify at trial violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to be confronted by witnesses against him. At trial, the nurse who administered the rape kit test did not testify, but the Commonwealth’s expert witness was permitted to testify to her understanding about how the testing had been executed. The Court held that the defendant was denied a meaningful opportunity to cross-examine about the reliability of the rape kit testimony because the expert had not been present for the test and because no witness appeared to testify about the chain of custody of the rape kit testing swabs. Furthermore, because the expert’s testimony corroborated the victim’s account, the improper admission of the expert’s testimony prejudiced the defendant. The case was remanded for a new trial.
Smell of Burnt Marijuana Alone Not Enough to Support Probable CauseConstitutional Law
Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, No. SJC-11814 (Mass. Sep. 22, 2015)
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the smell of burnt marijuana alone is not enough to justify probable cause to believe that one is committing the civil infraction of possessing a small amount of marijuana, but rather, it supports only reasonable suspicion. In light of this conclusion, the Court held that the stop and search of a defendant’s vehicle was impermissible where an officer’s only purpose for the stop was the smell of burnt marijuana. As a result, the Court reversed the Superior Court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during the impermissible stop and search.
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