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Commonwealth v. Baez

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

August 23, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BRANDON BAEZ.

          Heard: April 5, 2018.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on June 20, 2016. A question of law was reported by Christopher J. Muse, J., to the Appeals Court.

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

          Robert F. Hennessy for the defendant.

          John P. Zanini, Assistant District Attorney (Stacey Pichardo Corson, Assistant District Attorney, also present) for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          CYPHER, J.

         This case presents the question whether, in light of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), juvenile delinquency adjudications for violent offenses may serve as predicate offenses for adults indicted under G. L. c. 269, § 10G, the armed career criminal act (ACCA), [1] We conclude that they may.

         Background.

         At age eighteen, the defendant, Brandon Baez, was indicted for a violation of G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a.), unlawful possession of a firearm.[2] If convicted, and if he had no qualifying convictions for sentence enhancement, he would "be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two and one-half years nor more than five years, or for not less than [eighteen] months nor more than two and one-half years in a jail or house of correction." G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a.) (6) .

         The defendant had twice been adjudicated delinquent for crimes of violence as defined by the Legislature; therefore, the Commonwealth charged the defendant with violating § 10G.[3] The ACCA mandates enhanced sentencing for adults who violate G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a.), (c0, or (h), and have "been previously convicted of a violent crime or of a serious drug offense."[4]G. L. c. 269, § 10G (a.) - (c) . In other circumstances, we have determined that when the Legislature used the word "conviction" rather than adjudication, it meant to exclude juvenile delinquency adjudications. See generally Commonwealth v. Connor C., 432 Mass. 635, 646 (2000) ("We adhere to our long-standing jurisprudence that an 'adjudication' that a child has violated a law generally is not a 'conviction' of a crime"). Here, the Legislature imported the definition of "violent crime" from G. L. c. 140, § 121, which includes "any act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or possession of a deadly weapon that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult." See Commonwealth v. Anderson, 461 Mass. 616, 631, cert, denied, 568 U.S. 946 (2012); Commonwealth v. Furr, 58 Mass.App.Ct. 155, 157-158 (2003) .

         The ACCA creates a tiered system of punishment. Those with one applicable conviction "shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than three years nor more than [fifteen] years." Those with two applicable convictions, such as the defendant, "shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than ten years nor more than [fifteen] years." Those with three applicable convictions "shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than [fifteen] years nor more than [twenty] years." G. L. c. 269, § 10G (a)-(c).

         While the defendant's current case was proceeding, a judge in the Superior Court raised sua sponte the issue whether using juvenile adjudications to enhance sentencing in the same manner as adult convictions violated due process rights[5] and protections under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The judge invited the defendant to file a motion to dismiss on these grounds and reported the following question to the Appeals Court: "Whether in light of Miller v. Alabama, [567 U.S. 460 (2012)], a juvenile adjudication may be used as a predicate offense for enhanced penalties under G. L. c. 269, § 10G." We subsequently allowed the defendant's application for direct appellate review.

         D ...


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