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Includes case law, selected and curated by the Trial Court law librarians, on popular legal topics.

Table of Contents

Same-sex marriage

Self-represented litigants

About the self-represented and the right to self-representation

Adjartey v. Housing Court Central Division, 481 Mass. 830 (2019)
"It can be beneficial for self-represented litigants to work informally with one another and with other nonattorneys to acquire and spread information about navigating the eviction process.  We acknowledge, of course, that it is unlawful for any nonattorney to engage in the unauthorized practice of law -- for instance, by signing and filing a complaint on behalf of an unrepresented litigant.  ...But there are plenty of ways for nonattorneys to assist litigants without venturing into the unauthorized practice of law.  ... In a complex, high-stakes process where the right to counsel is not guaranteed and professional assistance is not universally available, the assistance provided by nonattorneys may be the only way for many litigants to learn about and assert their rights."

Comm. v. Mott, 2 Mass. App. Ct. 47 (1974)
"We think the language of article 12 of the Declaration of Rights is unambiguous as to the existence of the right within the Commonwealth ...We think, however, that the right to conduct one's own defense is not wholly unqualified..."

LAS Collection Management v. Pagan, 447 Mass. 847 (2006) The Supreme Judicial Court held that a property agent who is not an attorney may not represent a property owner in a lawsuit in the Housing Court. Distinguished by: Michael Hoostein v. Mental Health Association, Inc. 46 N.E.3d 115,  No. 14–P–1643. February 29, 2016. Unpublished opinion, Appeals Court, In contrast to the above case, the plaintiff failed to raise the issue of the defendant being represented by a non-attorney employee before the trial court and therefore, it could be deemed waived. See, e.g., NES Rentals v. Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc., 465 Mass. 856, 861 n. 8 (2013), issue raised by appellant for first time on appeal is waived). Moreover, as noted by the MHA, participation by a non-attorney in the case does not render the proceedings void. See Henry L. Sawyer Co. v. Boyajian, 296 Mass. 215, 218 (1936).

Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. 431 (2011)
While the Due Process Clause does not require the provision of counsel in a civil contempt case for failure to pay child support when the opposing parent is not represented by counsel, the court should provide "alternative procedural safeguards," such as "adequate notice of the importance of ability to pay, fair opportunity to present, and to dispute, relevant information, and court findings. Superseded by statute 45 C.F.R. § 303.6

Varney Enterprises, Inc. v. WMF, Inc., 402 Mass. 79 (1988)
Except in small claims matters, a corporation may not appear pro se in court in Massachusetts.

Wilbur v. Tunnell, 98 Mass. App. Ct. 19 (2020)
Normally, the personal representative of an estate cannot represent the estate pro se. But, in this case, the representative could appear pro se, where she was the only beneficiary and was being sued by the only creditor.

Sentencing, probation, and parole

Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004)
Applying the Apprendi decision to Washington law, the Supreme Court held that the 6th amendment requires any fact (other than a prior conviction) relied upon to impose an exceptional sentence must be admitted by the defendant or found by a jury.

Com. v. Baez, 480 Mass. 328 (2018)
Juvenile offenses can be used as predicate offenses for enhanced penalties.

Com. v. Beverly, 485 Mass. 1 (2020)
Continued Without a Finding (CWOF) is a sentence that can be challenged by a rule 29 revise and revoke procedure. A judge can't issue a CWOF without terms and conditions or probation. 

Com. v. Coelho, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 901 (2019)
Revise and revoke. A defendant can't file a "placeholder" motion within the 60 day time limit and then later supply the grounds on which it is based. Both the motion and an affidavit explaining the reasoning must be filed within the 60 days.

Com. v. DiBenedetto 491 Mass. 390 (2023)
In a conflict of defendants agreeing to a package deal in a plea agreement, the court concluded "package plea offers serve a legitimate public purpose and that such offers are not inherently unfair to a defendant."

Com. v. Eldred, 480 Mass. 90 (2018)
Probation can be revoked for failing drug test. "We conclude that, in appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug."

Com. v. Feliz, 481 Mass. 689 (2019)
The state law (MGL c.265, § 47) that requires everyone placed on probation for certain sex offenses wear a GPS bracelet is too broad. The court must decide on a case by case basis whether the particular reasons for imposing GPS monitoring outweigh the intrusion on that defendant's privacy.

Com. v. Henry, 475 Mass. 117 (2016)
Restitution and probation. "In determining whether to impose restitution and the amount of any such restitution, a judge must consider a defendant's ability to pay, and may not impose a longer period of probation or extend the length of probation because of a defendant's limited ability to pay restitution." Case then sets out the legal standard for determining the defendant's ability to pay.

Com. v. Martinez, 480 Mass. 777 (2018)
Procedure for refund of court costs, fines, victim-witness assessments and restitution after a conviction has been invalidated. (Refund is payment back from the Courts for what they received; restitution is what’s usually paid to victims.)

Com. v. Mattis, 493 Mass. 216 (2024)
Mandatory life without parole. The SJC ruled to raise the minimum age a person can be sentenced to mandatory life without parole from 18 to 21.

Com. v. McGonagle, 478 Mass. 675 (2018)
Victim impact statements. A judge may listen to and consider sentencing recommendations from a victim when making a sentencing decision for a case that did not involve capital murder.

Com. v. Montarvo, 486 Mass. 535 (2020)
The "three strikes law," MGL c.279, § 25(a) allows a judge to sentence a defendant to probation. "Should the Legislature decide to do so, it may amend § 25 (a) to bar a judge from imposing probation."

Com. v. Nash / Com. v. Elibert, 486 Mass. 394 (2020)
Provides detailed guidance on how the state or a defendant should appeal a stay of sentence pending appeal. Also provides clarifying guidance after Christie v. Com. on how judges should apply the "COVID-19 factor" when considering a stay.

Com. v. Norman, 484 Mass. 330 (2020)
Pre-trial use of GPS monitoring.

Com. v. Plasse, 481 Mass. 199 (2019)
A trial court judge may consider a defendant's need for rehabilitation in imposing a sentence of incarceration after violation of probation.

Com. v. Rodriguez, 482 Mass. 366 (2019)
Lengthy discussion of seemingly contradictory mandatory minimum sentences in MGL c. 269, § 10 (m) and appropriate statutory construction.

Com. v. Rossetti, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 552 (2019)
Unlawful disposition but no sentence. Where a judge had entered a continuance without a finding pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 18, but did not impose specific conditions as required by the statute and then immediately dismissed the case, the disposition was unlawful. But because that disposition was not a sentence, relief under rule 29 (a) was not available. Instead, the Commonwealth should have filed an appeal pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 15 (a) within thirty days of the date on which the charge was dismissed. Affirmed by 485 Mass. 24.

Com. v. Rossetti, 489 Mass. 589, (2022)
The court "delineates the differences between a 'minimum term' and a 'mandatory minimum term of imprisonment' or 'mandatory minimum sentence'."

Com. v. Ruiz, 480 Mass. 683 (2018)
Habitual criminal. "The Commonwealth has a right under G. L. c. 278, § 28E, and Mass. R. Crim. P. 15 (a) (1) to appeal from the dismissal of the sentence enhancement portion of an indictment." Also, “predicate convictions arising from separate qualifying criminal incidents or episodes need not be separately prosecuted in order for a person to be considered a habitual criminal under § 25(a)."

Com. v. Tejeda, 481 Mass. 794 (2019)
Usually, motions to revise and revoke a sentence have to be based only on the facts as they existed at the time of sentencing. This case creates a limited exception - a judge can consider a sentence on a codefendant who was tried separately, convicted of the same crime, equally responsible, but given a different sentence. The judge may choose to revise the first defendant's sentence in the interest of fairness.

Com. v. Williams, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 610 (2019)
Correcting a sentence under criminal rule 30(a) is not available to a person who has already completed the sentence.

Garcia v. Commonwealth, 487 Mass. 97 (2021)
G. L. c. 123, § 16(a), contains no standard for determining whether to commit temporarily a criminal defendant who has been found not criminally responsible by reason of mental illness to a facility other than Bridgewater State Hospital. In mental health context, it is unconstitutional to confine a non-dangerous person against his or her will merely to provide treatment. "The Legislature may wish to address this point by amending § 16(a) to include a legal standard to guide judges as to when they can order a temporary commitment for observation after a verdict of not criminally responsible."

Goe v. Commissioner of Probation, 473 Mass. 815 (2016)
Discusses the appropriate forum to challenge a special condition of probation when a probationer is transferred from one state to another under the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision.

Harmon v. Commissioner of Correction, 487 Mass. 470 (2021)
Medical parole. Prisoners may submit subsequent petitions for medical parole after one has been denied or has not been acted upon; the medical parole statute applies only to committed offenders and not pretrial detainees.

LaChance v. Commissioner of Correction, 463 Mass. 767 (2012)
Provides procedural safeguards for those in segregated confinement.

Malloy v. Department of Correction, 487 Mass. 482 (2021)
Medical parole. "Once the Commissioner of Correction issues a final, favorable decision... on medical parole..., the Department...must be proactive in working to release the prisoner expeditiously, but reasonable short-term delays are acceptable where they are outside the control of the department..."

Juvenile sentencing

Com. v. Perez, (Perez I) 477 Mass. 677 (2017)
Accomplices in fatal crimes can no longer be convicted of first-degree murder unless it is proven that they set out to kill or knew their actions would likely turn fatal. Sets parameters to consider factors and circumstances.

Com. v. Perez (Perez II), 480 Mass. 562 (2018)
Clarifies "the extraordinary circumstances requirement justifying longer periods of incarceration prior to eligibility for parole for juveniles who did not commit murder than for those who did."

Com. v. Terrell, 486 Mass. 596 (2021)
A Juvenile Court judge can't order credit for time served ("preadjudication detention credit") when sentencing.

Com. v. Watt, 484 Mass. 742 (2020)
A murder was committed by 2 defendants - one was 17 and the other was 18 at the time of the crime. The case was remanded to look at research on brain development after 17 to help decide whether the sentence imposed on the 18 year old defendant (life in prison without the possibility of parole), was constitutionalAppellate docket SJC-11693.

  • See: Com. v. Mattis, 493 Mass. 216 (2024), in which the SJC ruled to change the minimum age a person can be sentenced to mandatory life without parole from 18 to 21.

Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 466 Mass. 655 (2013)
The SJC concluded "that the imposition of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole on juveniles who are under the age of eighteen when they commit the crime of murder in the first degree is unconstitutional..."

Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 471 Mass. 12 (2015)
Juvenile homicide offenders serving mandatory sentences of life without parole have a right to counsel at their initial parole hearing, including the right to have counsel appointed if they are indigent. They also have the right to "public funds, if they are indigent, in order to secure reasonably necessary expert assistance at their initial parole hearing." In addition, a juvenile homicide offender who is denied parole has a right to obtain judicial review of the parole board's decision through an action in the nature of certiorari, brought in the Superior Court.


Sex offenders

Pretrial detention - dangerousness

Comm. v. Barnes, 481 Mass. 225 (2019)
Under the dangerousness statute, G. L. c. 276, § 58A, a person charged with statutory rape cannot be held without conditions of release prior to trial.

Comm. v. Vieira, 483 Mass. 417 (2019)
A charge of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen may not form the basis for pretrial detention under G. L. c. 276, § 58A.

Conditions of probation

Comm. v. Cole, 468 Mass. 294 (2014)
Court held that "community parole supervision for life" under MGL c.127, s.133D (c) is an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers. The court determined that severing that section was not the proper remedy, and so decided to "strike § 133D in its entirety and order that CPSL sentences, whether imposed pursuant to G. L. c. 6, § 178H (a), or G. L. c. 265, § 45, be vacated."

Comm. v. Feliz, 481 Mass. 689 (2019)
The state law (MGL c.265, § 47) that requires everyone placed on probation for certain sex offenses wear a GPS bracelet is too broad. The court must decide on a case by case basis whether the particular reasons for imposing GPS monitoring outweigh the intrusion on that defendant's privacy.

Sex offender classification and registration

Coe, et al. v. Sex Offenders Registry Board, 442 Mass. 250 (2004)
Permits posting of Level 3 Sex Offender information on the Internet.

Comm. v. Johnson, 482 Mass. 830 (2019)
A person who is in custody for failing to register as a sex offender (and not for the original sex offense) has standing to ask for DNA testing of biological material related to his only sex offense.

Comm. v. Wimer, 480 Mass. 1 (2018)
Where a defendant committed two separate offenses of open and gross lewdness, but pled guilty to both in the same proceeding, he did not have a "second and subsequent" conviction, and thus, was not required to register as a sex offender. 

Doe v. Boston Police Commissioner, 460 Mass. 342 (2011)
A level three sex offender was entitled to a hearing before MGL c.6, s.178K (2)(e) (barring level three offenders from rest homes) could be applied against him.

Doe v. City of Lynn, 472 Mass. 521 (2015)
A city ordinance that prohibited sex offenders from living near a school or park is unconstitutional.

Doe v. Sex Offenders Registry Board, 460 Mass. 336 (2011)
The right to a classification hearing is not waived by failure to appear. The Sex Offender Registry Board exceeded its authority in enacting 803 CMR 1.13(2).

Doe, SORB No. 11204 v. Sex Offender Registry Bd., 97 Mass. App. Ct. 564 (2020)
Discusses the differences between the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) and the civil commitment process (SDP). Case sent back to Superior Court to decide whether reports prepared in the SDP process should be considered in the SORB classification process.

Doe, SORB No. 16748 v. Sex Offender Registry Bd., 82 Mass. App. Ct. 152 (2012) 
"[T]he board lacked authority to adopt regulations purporting to authorize it to declare that the classification level could be increased absent conviction of a new sex offense."

Doe, SORB No. 234076 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, 484 Mass. 666 (2020)
A sex offender was entitled to have an expert present evidence that his age, and offense-free time prior to incarceration, lowered his risk of reoffense.

Doe, SORB No. 380316 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, 473 Mass. 297 (2015)
"In light of the new implications of classification at a given risk level," the Sex Offender Registry Board must establish the sex offender's risk of reoffense by clear and convincing evidence.  This is a change from the previous standard of proof of a preponderance of the evidence."

Doe, SORB No. 496501 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, 482 Mass. 643 (2019)
Level 2 classification for noncontact offense. "To find that an offender warrants a level two classification, the board must find by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the offender's risk of reoffense is moderate; (2) the offender's dangerousness is moderate; and (3) a public safety interest is served by Internet publication of the offender's registry information....[A]n individual is generally unlikely to pose a moderate degree of dangerousness -- and thus to qualify as a level two sex offender -- where his or her risk of reoffense relates only to noncontact offenses which do not put a victim in fear of bodily harm by reason of a contact sex offense."

Doe, SORB No. 7546 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, 487 Mass. 568 (2021)
Premature classification. "The final classification of an incarcerated sex offender who accepted the classification must be based on an evaluation of the offender's risk of reoffense at a time reasonably close to the actual date of discharge."

L.L. v. Commonwealth, 470 Mass. 169 (2014)
Outlines requirements for judge in determining whether to relieve juvenile of obligation to register. Also encourages judges to issue written findings.

Noe, SORB No. 5340 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, 480 Mass. 195 (2018)
"In sex offender reclassification proceedings involving an individual seeking downward reclassification, the Sex Offender Registry Board is constitutionally required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the classification remains current and correct, and this court further concluded that the sex offender seeking reclassification bears a burden of production to demonstrate some change in his or her circumstances. Doe, SORB 76819 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, 480 Mass. 212, decided the same day, requires the same burdens of proof and production in proceedings to terminate a sex offender's duty to register.

Sexually dangerous persons (SDP) civil commitment

Chapman, petitioner, 482 Mass. 293 (2019)
When both qualified examiners have concluded that a person is no longer sexually dangerous, he must be discharged from civil commitment. "An individual may not be civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person, or have his or her civil commitment continued after petitioning for release from custody, unless at least one of two qualified examiners offers the opinion that the individual is sexually dangerous."

Comm. v. Blake, 454 Mass. 267 (2009)
The Massachusetts SJC decided that judges have within 30 days of a trial to issue rulings in regards to deciding whether a defendant should be held indefinitely as a sexually dangerous offender.

Comm. v. Gardner, 480 Mass. 551 (2018)
G. L. c. 123A does not permit the commitment of an out of state prisoner, even if he is serving the sentence from another state in a Massachusetts facility.

Comm. v. Hunt, 462 Mass. 807 (2012)
"It is error to admit evidence that a defendant refused sex offender treatment where he could receive such treatment only by waiving confidentiality."

Comm. v. Spring, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 310 (2018)
"If the jury found the defendant likely to engage solely in the noncontact offense of viewing child pornography, they could not find him to be an SDP unless they also found that the noncontact offense would instill in his victims a reasonable apprehension of being subjected to a contact sex crime." 

Comm. v. Suave, 460 Mass. 582 (2011)
In a case involving solely noncontact sex offenses against adult victims, a defendant can be found to be a menace, and therefore a sexually dangerous person, only where the Commonwealth has shown (among other things) that "the defendant's predicted sexual offenses will instill in his victims a reasonable apprehension of being subjected to a contact sex crime."

Comm. v. Venetucci, 98 Mass. App. Ct. 210 (2020)
The state can't proceed with an SDP petition against a convicted sex offender who is about to complete his Massachusetts prison time, but who can't be released back into the community until he has served a federal sentence.

Green, petitioner, 475 Mass 624 (2016)
The Supreme Judicial Court further clarified the role of a qualified examiner under MGL c. 123A, § 9.  “[A] finding of sexual dangerousness must be based, at least in part, on credible examiner opinion testimony and that a jury instruction to that effect is essential to the informed exercise of the jury's fact-finding function.”

R.B., petitioner, 479 Mass. 712 (2018)
"Given the fundamental liberty interest at stake in sexual dangerousness proceedings, this court concluded that it was appropriate for it to review arguments raised for the first time on appeal, and that in doing so, the court would review for a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice."

Sexual harassment

Massachusetts cases

College-Town, Division of Interco Inc. v. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 400 Mass. 156 (1987) 
The court established a strict liability rule under Massachusetts law whereby the employer is liable for acts of its supervisory personnel.

Cuddyer v. Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., 434 Mass. 521 (2001)
Based on the continuing violation doctrine, claim was not barred by the 6 month statute of limitation period under MGL c. 151B.

Green v. Wyman-Gordon Co., 422 Mass. 551 (1996)
The remedies and procedures under MGL c. 151B are exclusive and bar the plaintiff's claim under MGL c. 214, § 1C. “…plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative requirements (MCAD) required by employment discrimination statutes precluded her from bringing sexual harassment suit in Superior Court.”

Gyulakian v. Lexus of Watertown, Inc., & another, 475 Mass. 290 (2016) 
A “sexually hostile or offensive work environment” is one that is pervaded by harassment or abuse, resulting in intimidation, humiliation, and stigmatization that poses a formidable barrier to the plaintiff's full participation in the workplace.

Lowery v. Klemm, 446 Mass. 572 (2006)
The court held that MGL c. 214, § 1C "does not apply to volunteers, although volunteers retain their common-law rights regarding sexual harassment."

Melnychenko v. 84 Lumber Co., 424 Mass. 285 (1997)
The court concluded that neither the gender or sexual orientation of perpetrators or victims are an element of a sexual harassment claim under MGL c. 151B.

O'Connell v. Chasdi, 400 Mass. 686 (1987)
The court held that "sexual harassment accomplished by threats, intimidation or coercion constitutes precisely the kind of conduct" prohibited by the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.

Stonehill College v. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 441 Mass. 549 (2004) 
The court reversed policy allowing employers the right to a jury trial in state discrimination proceedings. Cases that stayed with the MCAD could not be assessed for punitive damages, but the employer could be fined.

Federal cases

Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998)
"An employer is subject to vicarious liability to a victimized employee for an actionable hostile environment created by a supervisor with immediate (or successively higher) authority over the employee. When no tangible employment action is taken, a defending employer may raise an affirmative defense to liability or damages, subject to proof by a preponderance of the evidence."

Burns v. Johnson, 829 F.3d 1 (2016)
A plaintiff need not provide direct evidence, but only sufficient circumstantial evidence to show conduct was severe and pervasive under Title VII for sexual discrimination and harassment.

Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998)
A companion case to Burlington, above. "We hold that an employer is vicariously liable for actionable discrimination caused by a supervisor, but subject to an affirmative defense looking to the reasonableness of the employer's conduct as well as that of a plaintiff victim."

Harris v. Forklift Systems Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993)
The court held that if conduct in the workplace is so discriminatorily hostile or abusive, Title VII is violated regardless of whether the plaintiff suffered psychological harm. All of the circumstances must be examined to determine whether an environment is hostile or abusive.

Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986)
Sexual harassment leading to non-economic injury is a violation of Title VII.

Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75 (1998)
Sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII.

Sick leave

Small claims


Snow and ice

Spam and junk mail

Special education

Stem cell research

Student discipline

Student dress codes and freedom of expression

Surrogate parenting

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Last updated: March 26, 2024

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