The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has upheld the rulings of a Hampden County Superior Court judge made during the criminal proceedings against Kieson Cuffee.
In 2018 Springfield “ShotSpotter” system detected multiple gun shots in the vicinity of Grand Street, Two officers were sent to the area and they observed Cuffee running from the direction of the gunfire while clutching what appeared to be an unholstered gun in the waistband of his sweatpants.
The officers followed Cuffee into a convenient store where, according to the court, “a brief and violent struggle ensued.” Cuffee managed to break free from the officers and flee from the store. He was apprehended, however, after a brief foot chase.
No gun was found on Cuffee when he was arrested. But a .380 Sig Sauer pistol was found at the convenient store where he tussled with police. The gun contained three rounds of ammunition. The casings found on Grand Street matched the bullets that were loaded in the gun.
Ultimately, a jury convicted Cuffee of unlawful possession of a firearm and he received an eight-year prision sentence.
His attorneys appealed the case, challenging two rulings made by the superior court judge.
First, the judge denied the defendant’s motion for any and all investigation reports made by the arresting officers within the last two years. The two officers who arrested Cuffee were white. Cuffee was black. Based on this alone, defense counsel sought to establish that Cuffee’s arrest and the charges against him amount to “selective prosecution.”
The SJC was not persuaded and upheld the lower court’s decision:
Here…we discern no abuse of discretion in the judge’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion for discovery to support a claim of selective prosecution on the basis of race. The sum total of the defendant’s motion was a statement that Caucasian police officers stopped a Black man to investigate a recent shooting. The judge was within her discretion to deny the motion seeking discovery based only on the defendant’s membership in a protected class. To make a threshold showing of relevance, more is required.
Next the defendant argued that the prosecution’s closing argument contained ad hominem attacks against defense counsel’s competency and legal theories. These comments, the defendant claims, amount to a miscarriage of justice which requires a new trial.
After the defense counsel had given her arguments on why there was sufficient “reasonable doubt” to acquit Cuffee of the crimes, the prosecutor told the jury that reasonable doubt “doesn’t mean completely farfetched, tinfoil-hat-wearing doubt”
According to the SJC,
The prosecutor’s characterization of the defense as “tinfoil-hat-wearing” reasonable doubt…crossed the line…”Defense counsel’s improper argument does not furnish the prosecutor ‘a license to indulge in improper argument'”…”A prosecutor may address a particular point in defense counsel’s closing argument as a sham, but [the prosecutor] may not characterize the entire defense as such.”
Nevertheless, in the court’s opinion, “the prosecutor’s improper remark did not create a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice and does not warrant a new trial.”
The full opinion is attached below: