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Shipps v. District Attorney for the Norfolk District (Lawyers Weekly No. 10-111-15)

NOTICE:  All slip opinions and orders are subject to formal revision and are superseded by the advance sheets and bound volumes of the Official Reports.  If you find a typographical error or other formal error, please notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, 1 Pemberton Square, Suite 2500, Boston, MA, 02108-1750; (617) 557-1030; SJCReporter@sjc.state.ma.us   SJC-11733   WILLIAM M. SHIPPS, JR.  vs.  DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR THE NORFOLK DISTRICT. July 6, 2015.     Declaratory Relief.  Practice, Criminal, Capital case, Sentence.     William M. Shipps, Jr., filed a complaint in the county court in 2014, pursuant to G. L. c. 231A, seeking a declaration that his sentences for murder in the first degree under G. L. c. 265, § 2, as amended by St. 1979, c. 488, § 2, which were imposed thirty years earlier, are unconstitutional.  A single justice of this court dismissed the complaint.  We affirm.   In 1984, Shipps was convicted of two indictments charging murder in the first degree and other crimes.  He was sentenced on the murder convictions to two consecutive life terms in State prison without the possibility of parole, and to four concurrent life terms on the remaining convictions.  Commonwealth v. Shipps, 399 Mass. 820 (1987).  Thereafter, Shipps filed three motions seeking a new trial in the Superior Court, all of which were denied.  Commonwealth v. Shipps, 440 Mass. 1018, 1019 (2003), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 910 (2004).  A single justice of this court denied leave to appeal from the ruling on the third motion, pursuant to the “gatekeeper” provision of G. L. c. 278, § 33E, and we dismissed Shipps’s appeal from that ruling.  Id.   1.  In 2014, Shipps filed a complaint for declaratory relief in the county court, seeking a determination that the imposition of his sentence (indeed, any sentence at all) for his convictions of murder in the first degree violated the ex post facto and due process clauses of the United States Constitution because the sentencing statute applicable at the time of his offenses, G. L. c. 265, § 2, as amended by St. 1979, c. 488, § 2, provided for no penalty other than death, which by the time of his offenses had been ruled unconstitutional.  See District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist. v. Watson, 381 Mass. 648 (1980).  It is well established that declaratory relief ordinarily is not available in the context of pending criminal cases.  Id. at 659.  Similarly, a complaint seeking declaratory relief may not be used postconviction to avoid the gatekeeper provision of G. L. c. 278, § 33E, or to challenge the legality of a sentence by contesting the constitutionality of the statute under which the plaintiff (the defendant in the underlying criminal case) was sentenced.  […]

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Posted by Massachusetts Legal Resources - July 6, 2015 at 11:49 pm

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