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Policy Library

Catching Up . . . Have You Heard?

October 23, 2013

SJC Annual Address

Last Wednesday, Chief Justice Roderick Ireland gave his annual address at the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Bench-Bar Symposium at the John Adams Courthouse.  For the first time in a long time, the courts’ future looks bright.  Ireland spoke highly of the new leadership of Chief Justice Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence, as well as the Governor and legislators who approved a much needed judicial pay raise, the first in seven years.  The funding the Trial Court received will allow for some additional hiring to replace a handful of laid-off workers and has raised the morale of judges and clerks.  Furthermore, the court has returned to full hours and service in all clerks’ offices for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.  Finally, the court is looking to the future with Ireland’s announcement that the SJC is working on an e-filing program.

Annie Dookhan Court Appearance

Last Friday, Annie Dookhan, the state chemist accused of tampering with and mishandling evidence, made an appearance in Suffolk Superior Court for a conference regarding a possible change of plea.  The night before, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office recommended a five to seven year sentence and five years of probation if Dookhan pleaded guilty.

In December 2012, a grand jury indicted Dookhan on 17 counts of obstruction of justice, eight counts of tampering with evidence, and single counts of perjury and falsely claiming to hold a degree.  Without the plea, Dookhan could face a massive sentence – each of the 25 counts of obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence carry up to a 10 year state prison term.  The single perjury charge can result in up to 20 years of prison time, and lying about her degree could add another 2½ years.  She has pleaded not guilty and her attorney is asking for a sentence of one year or less.

The BBA’s Drug Lab Working Group met one more time recently and is preparing a report for BBA leadership on its conclusions in the coming months.

SCOTUS Death Penalty Case

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a capital punishment case, Kansas v. Cheever.  The defendant, Scott Cheever, admitted to fatally shooting Sheriff Matt Samuels in 2005.  He argued, however, that due to his methamphetamine usage, he was unable to meet the premeditation requirement needed for a murder conviction.  In a lower court, a psychiatrist testified on behalf of the defense substantiating this claim.  The prosecution countered with testimony from a government psychiatrist who examined Cheever under court orders.  The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the state violated the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by rebutting his defense with evidence from the court-ordered mental evaluation.

In oral argument, a majority of the justices appeared to side with the prosecution.

The BBA’s Death Penalty Working Group met for the first time early this week.  They will reexamine the BBA’s positions, investigate the possible use of the death penalty in Massachusetts, and discuss the legal implications of its use in a federal case in the state, such as for the Marathon Bomber.  They will meet monthly through the beginning of 2014 and report to BBA leadership then.

EJC Walk to the Hill

We are pleased to report that the Equal Justice Coalition is hard at work planning this year’s Walk to the Hill event.  The event will take place on January 30, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Massachusetts State House.  On that day, hundreds of lawyers will meet at the statehouse to lobby their own lawmakers to protect state funding for programs providing civil legal aid to low income Massachusetts residents.  Stay tuned for more information about how you can get involved.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association