Overturning Your Convictions
If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime, it can be demoralizing. No doubt, the trial usually represents the accused’s best chance at justice. Persuading the trial judge, Appeals Court, Supreme Judicial Court or Supreme Court to overturn a conviction is a notoriously difficult task. But, it can be done.
Winning the Appeal
While impressive oratory before the Court might persuade the conflicted Jurists of the merits of an appeal, meticulously researched and exceptionally written briefs win appeals. In the austere world of appeals, oral argument is fluff, serving as monthly entertainment for Justices who spend most of their time toiling over legal minutia. Legal briefs are the advanced weaponry of modern appellate warfare.
Legal Issues: the Kryptonite of Unassailable Convictions
Appellate Justices are unsympathetic to appeals to simple fairness. They demonstrate an active contempt for attorneys who attempt to re-argue the facts. Indeed, on appeal, facts are overwhelmingly construed in favor of the government. Appellate Justices are concerned with only one thing: viable legal issues. Legal issues are, essentially, the trial judge’s mistakes; misstatements of law, violations of process, failures to conform to the dictates of appellate court opinions and breaches of constitutional dimension. To succeed on appeal, the criminal defense lawyer must correctly identify these issues, cite a dozen or more appellate court decisions that support his contention, and persuasively argue that this issue alone, or in combination with other issues, denied his client an impartial, procedurally correct trial as guaranteed by the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
To spot these issues, a lawyer must be extremely well versed in criminal law, criminal procedure, and appellate court precedent stretching back over 200 years. Appellate court interpretations of the manner in which trial judges apply these precedents to the unique factual circumstances before them necessarily produce uneven, or even conflicting, appellate court opinions. As the body of irreconcilable appellate opinions grows, a trial judge has greater and greater difficulty in choosing which of the many conflicting opinions best applies to the particular facts of the trial over which he is presiding. It is not uncommon, therefore, for an honest trial judge to run afoul of one appellate court opinion by applying the dictates of another. It is the uncanny ability of the seasoned appellate lawyer to identify these trial court errors that sets him apart from the ordinary criminal defense lawyer.
In his capacity as a judicial law clerk to the Justices of the Connecticut Superior Court, Kevin J. Mahoney not only assisted these trial judges in determining which of the conflicting appellate court opinions best applied to the facts before them, he researched and drafted their decisions. As an Assistant District Attorney for the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, he was assigned to the Appeals & Training Bureau. On behalf of the District Attorney’s Office, he researched and drafted approximately twenty appellate briefs and represented the Commonwealth of Massachusetts before the Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court on appeals from murder, manslaughter, drug trafficking, domestic assault and battery, rape, and kidnapping convictions. Since leaving the District Attorney’s Office, Mahoney has persuaded the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn a 1st degree murder conviction, and the Appeals Court to overturn convictions for armed robbery and armed assault within a dwelling.
Very few Massachusetts criminal appeal lawyers can claim such experience in the appellate courts.
Between early 1991 and December 1992, Attorney Mahoney compiled an appellate record of 12 wins and 2 losses as an assistant district attorney.
Commonwealth vs. Michael S., Superior Court, No. 90030-32
When Attorney Mahoney agreed to represent him, the client had already been confined to MCI-Walpole for eight years. In 1992, a jury convicted him of assault & battery with a dangerous weapon and armed assault within a dwelling. The judge sentenced the client for a term of 18 to 30 years for the armed assault and a term of 5 to 10 years for the assault & battery with a dangerous weapon. In 1994, the client’s appellate attorney argued unsuccessfully to the Appeals Court that the trial judge had improperly abridged trial counsel’s right to fully cross-examine the alleged victim.
On 31 July 2001, Attorney Mahoney argued to Judge John Tierney that the trial judge’s instructions were so hopelessly flawed that there existed a substantial risk that the jury had in error convicted the client of armed assault. Judge Tierney agreed and overturned the conviction.
Published Opinions Of Supreme Judicial Court
As a Defense Attorney:
Commonwealth vs. Martin, 427 Mass. 816 (1998)
1st Degree Murder – conviction overturned. Attorney Mahoney successfully argued on appeal that District Attorney’s Office withheld exculpatory toxicology evidence and that defendant’s trial attorney had provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to challenge the cause-of-death evidence.
Commonwealth vs. Meuse, 423 Mass. 831 (1996)
Armed Robbery – conviction overturned. Attorney Mahoney persuaded Court that the prosecutor had improperly vouched for credibility of “snitch” who testified that the defendant and his accomplices had committed armed robbery.
As an Assistant District Attorney: Commonwealth vs. Ward, 412 Mass. 395 (1992)
1st Degree Murder – conviction affirmed. Assistant District Attorney Mahoney persuasively countered defense attorney’s argument that juvenile – who had repeatedly stabbed homeless veteran to death and attempted to set him on fire – had not knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and that the conviction should be reduced to 2nd degree murder. (It was my “victory” here that fueled my desire to defend people – rather than prosecute them).
Commonwealth vs. Sabetti, 411 Mass. 770 (1992)
Trafficking in Cocaine – conviction affirmed. Assistant District Attorney Mahoney successfully opposed defense counsel’s contention that State Trooper’s warrantless search of car was unconstitutional. Mahoney persuaded Court that trial judge had erred in reducing jury verdict of “trafficking” to “intent to distribute” – which carried substantially less mandatory prison time. (From the beginning, I thought the defendant was innocent. When it came time to re-sentence the defendant in accordance with “trafficking” conviction, I asked for the lowest sentence permissible under the statute).
Published Opinions Of The Appeals Court
Commonwealth vs. King, 33 Mass. App. Ct. 380 (1992)
2nd Degree Murder – conviction affirmed. Assistant District Attorney Mahoney convinced Court that trial judge was within his discretion in allowing gruesome photographs of victim into evidence.
Commonwealth vs. Meuse, 38 Mass. App. Ct. 772 (1995)
Armed Robbery Conviction overturned. See above.
Commonwealth vs. Munera, 31 Mass. App. Ct. 380 (1991)
Cocaine Trafficking – conviction affirmed. Assistant District Attorney Mahoney successfully countered defense attorney’s contention that there was insufficient evidence from which jury could have found the Defendant guilty.