Add two United States Supreme Court justices to the large (and growing) list of critics of the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office. In an opinion released today, the Supreme Court reversed a decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that said stun guns do not qualify as “arms” that are protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Justices Alito and Thomas slammed the Middlesex DA’s Office for “[choosing] to deploy its prosecutorial resources to prosecute and convict [a battered woman] of a criminal offense for arming herself with a nonlethal weapon that may well have saved her life.” The name of the case is Caetano v. Massachusetts.
During a shoplifting investigation, the Ashland police searched the defendant’s purse and found a stun gun. The defendant told the police she carried the stun gun to protect herself against her violent ex-boyfriend, who outweighed her by almost 100 pounds. When the ex-boyfriend had confronted her, she threatened him with the stun gun and he left her alone. Nevertheless, it is a crime in Massachusetts to possess a stun gun and the defendant was dragged into court and criminally charged. The defendant waived her right to a jury trial and a judge convicted her of violating the statute. The guilty finding was filed, which means there was no punishment other than the conviction itself. The defendant appealed the conviction to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and argued the statute unconstitutionally violated her right to bear arms. The SJC upheld the conviction and ruled the statute was constitutional. The defendant appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
In a brief, two-page order released today, the United States Supreme Court reversed the SJC’s opinion. The Supreme Court ruled the SJC’s decision was in direct conflict with a recent Supreme Court case named District of Columbia v. Heller, which said the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms, even those weapons that were not in existence at the time of the founding of the nation. The Supreme Court said every conclusion reached by Massachusetts’ highest court in this case was wrong. The practical consequence of the opinion is that the Massachusetts statute that allows for an outright ban on the possession of stun guns is going to be struck down and the defendant’s conviction in this case is likely going to be reversed.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito and Thomas are the most conservative justices on the Court. Alito, a former federal prosecutor, wrote that the SJC’s conclusions were “simply wrong” and while he was clearly unimpressed with the SJC’s legal reasoning, he appeared equally unimpressed with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office’s decision to prosecute the defendant in the first place. He wrote, “[a] State’s most basic responsibility is to keep its people safe. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was either unable or unwilling to do what was necessary to protect [the defendant], so she was forced to protect herself. To make matters worse, the Commonwealth chose to deploy its prosecutorial resources to prosecute and convict her…” For those of us who practice regularly in Middlesex County, it’s no surprise at all that the DA’s Office decided to prosecute this case. This is the most unreasonable District Attorney’s Office in the Commonwealth. It is an office that hides exculpatory evidence. It is an office that has lied to a superior court judge. It is an office that has inappropriately pressured a medical examiner to make a particular finding in a murder investigation. It is an office that requests bail for political reasons. The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office is a nightmare. The fact that United States Supreme Court justices have gone out of their way to criticize the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office is the latest embarrassment to a once-proud office.