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felonies Archives

Can a defendant's past crime be introduced into evidence?

A common question asked by criminal defendants with histories of prior criminal activity is whether evidence of a prior crime can be used to prove guilt. For example, a person who is accused of felony drug charges may have been convicted of a similar crime on a prior occasion. Can that earlier conviction be used to prove that the defendant committed the crime for which he or she is being tried?

Massachusetts court refines felony murder rule

The English common law has given courts in the United States, both local and federal, many doctrines that are routinely applied in criminal and civil cases. One of the oldest and best known of such rules is the felony murder rule. The rule states that anyone who participates in a felony during which a person is killed is guilty of first degree murder. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued an opinion in which it prospectively narrowed the definition of a felony murder.

Helping defendants charged with felonies in Massachusetts

Those defending against a felony charge in Massachusetts face varying punishments depending on the nature of their offense. A conviction for any felony carries serious consequences such as prison time and fines. For example, if convicted of felony drug charges, defendants may be required to serve up to 20 years in prison and pay a $25,000 fine, depending on the type and quantity of drug in their case.

Four grounds for appeal based on harmful error

A previous blog post discussed the process of appealing a criminal conviction or sentence in Massachusetts. Harmless errors - or ones that do not affect the substantial rights of the defendant - will not justify reversal. To justify reversal, the error must have been a harmful error affecting the substantial rights of the defendant.

Felony drug charges: school zone violations

In Massachusetts, possession with intent to distribute is a felony drug charge, regardless of the type of drug the defendant is accused of having. Those convicted of possession with intent to distribute may face up to two years in jail for a first offense. Second and subsequent offenses may carry more serious sentences depending on the type of drug and circumstances of the case. Those accused of selling or intending to distribute drugs in a school zone may be subject to sentence enhancement.

Grounds for appealing a criminal conviction or sentence

A previous blog post discussed the process of appealing a criminal conviction or sentence. If the trial court error involved the defendant's constitutional rights, the conviction would be subject to automatic reversal. Otherwise, a reversal will only be granted to defendants who can show that a harmful error occurred which affected their substantial rights. Harmless errors, ones that did not contribute to the guilty verdict, will not justify a reversal.

Appealing a criminal conviction or sentence in Massachusetts

Once defendants have been convicted, they have the right to appeal on certain grounds. In Massachusetts, a defendant may appeal in several circumstances including when new evidence was discovered that could affect the outcome of the case, evidence was improperly admitted, incorrect legal rulings or jury instructions were given or other legal errors were made that significantly impacted the outcome of the case. Generally, direct appeals are first made to the Appeals Court, after which they may proceed to the Supreme Judicial Court for further appellate review. However, in the case of a first-degree murder conviction, the case will proceed directly to the SJC.

Legal defenses to burglary and robbery

A previous blog post discussed the potential penalties for burglary and robbery and the differences between the two. Those accused of burglary or robbery should also know the legal defenses that may be asserted in response to the accusation of such a serious crime.

What is the difference between burglary and robbery?

Burglary and robbery both often involve theft, but there are several differences between the two crimes. Burglary involves the unlawful entry into a structure whereas robbery does not. Robbery involves the use of force or fear upon another person to obtain property whereas burglary does not. Both crimes carry varying penalties upon conviction depending on the circumstances of the crime.

Defending a charge of manslaughter or murder

Manslaughter and murder are two of the most serious charges that individuals face in Massachusetts. Manslaughter, or the killing of a person without premeditation, can result in legal consequences of up to 20 years in prison. Murder, or the unlawful and premeditated killing of a person, can lead to life in prison upon conviction. Defending a manslaughter or a murder charge requires a powerful defense and the assistance of a knowledgeable, skilled and experienced attorney.

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