UMass hosts MA Appeals Court

Six cases were heard

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Collegian File Photo

By Will Mallas, Assistant News Editor

Six cases were brought before the Massachusetts Appeals Court in a sitting held at the University of Massachusetts on Tuesday.

The Appeals Court acts as the state’s intermediate appeals court, where appellants look to get a previous judicial decision reevaluated in a higher court.

The sitting was led by a three-judge panel consisting of Justices William Meade, Sydney Hanlon and C. Jeffrey Kinder. In the six cases heard, the attorneys for both the appellant and the appellee were given 15 minutes each to present their case. While they presented, the justices would ask questions based on what the attorneys were saying and what was presented to the judges in written case briefs. No rebuttals were allowed. A written brief of the cases was distributed to those in attendance.

The first case heard was Commonwealth v. Clifford Ahern. Ahern was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and failure to stop for police. On Nov. 4, 2016, Ahern, who had a warrant out for his arrest, drove away from police after a traffic stop, according to the brief. Once he reached his residence, Ahern ran to the front door with a knife yelling his wife’s name. When officers reached Ahern’s residence, they got into an altercation with Ahern and shot him twice. One officer involved noticed his shirt had been ripped and there was a “small nick” on his bicep.

In an attempt to appeal the conviction, Alison Bancroft, Ahern’s attorney, argued there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Ahern had touched the officer with a dangerous weapon, and cited the fact that no testimony was given of what the “small nick” had looked like.

Justice Meade questioned if the “small nick” being directly caused by Ahern “bared the weight of proof beyond reasonable doubt?” He also argued that inferences in court need only be “reasonable or possible” which is “tremendously lower than reasonable doubt.”

The Commonwealth’s representation argued in response that the evidence provided was in fact sufficient enough to uphold Ahern’s conviction.

In the second case, Commonwealth v. Edward Gonzales, the Commonwealth looked to reverse a motion to suppress statements made during a police interview. According to the written brief, Gonzales was arrested for a Springfield murder and was taken to the police station, where police interviewed him. The interview, and along with it any recording, stopped after Gonzales invoked his right to counsel. However, when recording had stopped, a “Spanish-speaking detective engaged in some small talk with the defendant” and after the conversation, a second interview began. Once the second interview concluded, Gonzales was charged with murder and illegal possession of a firearm.

During the pre-trial, the defendant’s representation was able to suppress the use of the conversation held in between the two interviews as evidence.

Representing the Commonwealth, Katherine McMahon argued the video footage of the second interview corroborated the Spanish-speaking detective’s account of what he had conversed about with Gonzales.

Justice Meade responded that it was “inexplicable” to not instruct the officer to record the conversation he had with Gonzales.

The third case heard was Commonwealth v. Antonio A. Amaro. Amaro was convicted of three counts of distribution of a class B substance after an officer, who had witnessed Amaro selling drugs on two separate occasions, searched two of the buyers and found two rocks of a “white substance” on one buyer and two rocks of “what appeared to be crack cocaine” on the other, according to the brief.

Amaro’s attorney, Jon Maddox, argued that based on the “doctrine of Target Standing,” Amaro was the lone target of the investigation and the police did not have probable cause to search the buyers, thus, the rock cocaine should have been suppressed from evidence.

A motion had been filed to suppress the cocaine from evidence in the initial trial. The motion was denied.

“This defendant was on surveillance over several days, right, two anyway, and he’s selling drugs out of a window like it’s a Dunkin Donuts drive thru, and then they catch the guys leaving with crack in their possession,” Justice Meade said in response to Maddox’s argument. “What is egregious misconduct here?”

The Commonwealth, represented by Joseph Coliflores, argued that the conduct of the police was not “distinctly egregious.” Additionally, according to the appellee’s brief found on the Appeals Court website, the appellee’s team argued “Target Standing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been routinely rejected by the appellate courts.”

The fourth case was Kellan P. Humphries v. Kirkham B. Wood & another. Humphries was a 15-year-old who was treated by Wood for a tailbone injury. After initial surgery, the pain worsened and an infection was discovered. The doctor who discovered the infection said it began growing after Wood performed surgery. Humphries was awarded damages for pain and suffering as well as lost earning capacity.

Donna Marcin, representing Wood, argued that in the trial, the cross-examination of one of Humphries’ expert witnesses was cut short due to time limits and was later shown on video. Marcin said the judge presiding over the case never asked the witness when the witness could return to finish the examination, and that the video led to an unfair trial.

The appellee’s side claimed the video did not present an unfair trial and that the defendants did not raise the issue of the video in the initial trial.

“There was nothing wrong with the video other than [that] the defense lost the case,” Elizabeth Mulvey said. Mulvey represented Humphries.

The final case was an adoption case, where a father was appealing the termination of his parental rights to his two-year-old son. The case was impounded, so the names of the parties involved were not given.

Rebecca Tatum Long, representing the father, argued there was “no evidence of neglect and abuse” from the father.

The appellee side claimed the father would show up high to visits with social workers and showed an unfitness to keep custody of his child.

The justices also heard James Dever v. Aaron Foley & others, a case that looked to appeal “whether participation in the FINRA arbitration is protected ‘petitioning activity’ pursuant to the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute,” according to the brief.

The justices will decide on the cases at a later date.

Following the conclusion of the sitting, the justices answered questions from students in the audience.

Will Mallas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @willmallas.