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Commonwealth v. Soto

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

February 9, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
ALEXANDER SOTO.

          Heard: October 7, 2016.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on April 2, 2015.

         A motion to dismiss was heard by Peter M. Lauriat, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Helle Sachse, Assistant District Attorney (Mark A. Hallal & Montez D. Haywood, Assistant District Attorneys, also present) for the Commonwealth.

          Benjamin L. Falkner for the defendant.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          HINES, J.

         Alexander Soto, a juvenile, was indicted in the Superior Court for murder in the first degree and for related offenses under G. L. c. 119, § 74. A judge in the Superior Court dismissed the nonmurder indictments, ruling that the nonmurder charges must be brought first in the Juvenile Court by a complaint for delinquency or a youthful offender indictment prior to joinder with the murder indictments. The Commonwealth appealed, and we granted its application for direct appellate review. We conclude, based on the plain language of G. L. c. 119, § 74, and the overarching statutory scheme governing the treatment of juveniles charged with a violation of the criminal law, that when a juvenile is indicted for murder, nonmurder offenses that are properly joined with the murder indictment under Mass. R. Crim. P. 9 (a) (1), 378 Mass. 859 (1979), must be brought in the Superior Court. Therefore, we reverse the order allowing the defendant's motion to dismiss the nonmurder indictments and remand the matter to the Superior Court.

         Background.

         On November 5, 2014, the defendant and two codefendants were involved in a shooting that resulted in the death of Ryan Morrissey and serious injury to James Lawton. In April, 2015, a Suffolk County grand jury returned five indictments against the defendant: (1) murder, G. L. c. 265, § 1; (2) armed assault with the intent to murder, G. L. c. 265, § 18 (b); (3) assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, causing serious bodily injury, G. L. c. 265, § 15A (c0 (i); (4) unlawful possession of a firearm, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a.); and (5) unlawful possession of a loaded firearm, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n). Because the defendant was seventeen years old at the time of the shooting, the Commonwealth brought the indictments in the Superior Court pursuant to G. L. c. 119, § 74.

         After the arraignment on the murder indictment, the court deferred arraignment on the nonmurder indictments for reasons that are not apparent on the record. The Commonwealth filed a motion for joinder of the nonmurder indictments under Mass. R. Crim. P. 9 (a) (1). The defendant countered with a motion to dismiss the nonmurder indictments, arguing that these charges could be properly joined with the murder indictment only after being brought first in the Juvenile Court and transferred to the Superior Court as provided in G. L. c. 211B, § 9 (x)-[1] This statute vests authority in the Chief Justice of the Trial Court to consolidate cases pending in different departments of the Trial Court and to assign a justice of one Trial Court department to sit as a justice in another Trial Court department. More specifically, the defendant claimed that the Commonwealth was required to bring the unlawful possession of a firearm charge as a delinquency complaint and the remainder of the nonmurder counts as youthful offender indictments in the Juvenile Court.

         After a nonevidentiary hearing on the motions, the judge denied the Commonwealth's motion for joinder and granted the defendant's motion to dismiss. In allowing the defendant's motion to dismiss, the judge ruled that a juvenile defendant "is not automatically subject to indictment, arraignment, trial, or sentencing as an adult on . . . non-murder charges . . . that he faces by sole reason that those charges arise from the same circumstances upon which his murder indictment is based." In addition, the judge cited to two Superior Court cases in which the Commonwealth followed the G. L. c. 211B, § 9 (x), interdepartmental transfer procedure it opposes in this case. This appeal followed.

         D ...


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