Motion for a New Trial in Massachusetts
If someone has been convicted of a criminal offense in Massachusetts there are certain limited grounds for moving a motion for a new trial. This can be done at any time after the conviction has been determined by trial.
There are two principal categories of reasons why a motion for a new trial in Massachusetts may be granted by the trial judge.
- The first is when the defendant can prove that an error has occurred during the trial or in the verdict made by the jury that has caused an injustice to have been made.
- The second is when new evidence after the trial and conviction is discovered or revealed that shows that an injustice has occurred.
In both cases, the defendant must be able to show that the motion for a new trial could substantially alter or reverse the decision made by the court, i.e. an injustice has been done.
Errors in the trial procedure
If the defendant can prove that there were substantive errors in the way the trial itself was conducted, including pre-trial procedures or misconduct by one or more of the jurors, then this may be considered as grounds for the judge to grant a new trial. Any irregularity in the way the preliminary proceedings or the trial itself occurred may be examples of errors significant enough to be considered grounds for granting a new trial. If it can be shown that jurors have discussed the proceedings of the trial at any time before deliberations take place, attempt to intimidate or coerce other jurors, deliberately mislead the court, attempt to influence the trial by introducing evidence of their own, then these are all potential reasons why a motion for a new trial may be granted.
Presentation of new evidence
The discovery of new evidence that was not known about by either trial counsel or the defendant before the trial may be grounds for moving a motion for a new trial as long as it can be proven that the new evidence is significant enough to show that n injustice has been done.
One of the more common reasons why new evidence can lead to a granting of a new trial is when the defendant can show that the evidence presented beforehand had no sound scientific basis for its use. For example, breathalyzer accuracy has been questioned frequently after convictions for OUI in Massachusetts as it has in other states. A reading from a breathalyzer may be the only evidence prosecutors have to back up their allegation that a defendant has been driving while under the influence of alcohol. In Massachusetts, non-commercial drivers may be convicted of OUI if evidence shows that they had a blood alcohol content of more than 0.08% while driving. However, if an investigation after a conviction reveals that a breathalyzer used was defective, or faulty, the officer using it had not been trained properly or used unauthorized protocol when using it, then this may be sufficient for a new trial to be granted.
Another reason for new evidence being used as grounds for a new trial is when new scientific technology or discoveries allow a different interpretation of the original case. DNA evidence has been part of criminal investigations now for quite a long time, but in some cases, material evidence presented originally may not have been analyzed for DNA and subsequent analysis may show that the defendant could not have been the person alleged to have committed the crime.
When a key witness later recants their original testimony or admits that they lied or were wrong about events that had a material significance in the trial of the defendant, then this may be sufficient enough for a new trial to be granted. The trial judge in this case must examine the reasons or motives behind why the witness has changed his or her testimony before coming to a decision about whether a new trial should take place. The change in witness testimony must seem genuine enough and of sufficient significance in suggesting that an injustice has occurred for the judge to consider granting a new trial.
Another common reason for granting a new trial based on new evidence is when it can be shown that prosecutors withheld evidence or failed to disclose evidence that may have been exculpatory, i.e. the evidence may have helped exonerate the defendant or been in the defendant’s favor. The granting of a new trial must then ensure that this missing evidence is revealed.
Ineffective or incompetent defense attorney
In some cases where a defendant can prove that failings made by his/her own defense attorney has led to a conviction then this may be sufficient grounds for a motion for a new trial in Massachusetts to be granted. For example,
- the attorney failed to use evidence that was already available to the defense;
- the attorney failed to carry out an investigation that could have revealed exculpatory evidence;
- the attorney did not use an expert or consult with a relevant expert;
- the attorney failed to interview potentially significant witnesses;
- the attorney did not make an objection to evidence presented by the prosecution that should have been inadmissible.