Supreme Court Affirms: Client Michael O'Laughlin Is A Free Man

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for a writ of certoriari filed by the Commonwealth, thus letting stand the order by the First Circuit Court of Appeals freeing client Michael O'Laughlin and affirming his innocence.

Thus ends Michael's nine year odyssey of imprisonment.

Supreme Court orders client Michael O'Laughlin released on bail

After nearly 9 years in prison, Michael O'Laughlin was release on bail last week. Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had filed any emergency motion with the US Supreme Court to keep Michael in prison. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court denied the Attorney General's motion and ordered Michael to be released with bail. Justice Breyer wrote: "Respondent’s liberty interest in release is particularly substantial given that it is not reasonably likely that this Court would grant a petition for certiorari filed by the Commonwealth."

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision earlier this summer, holding that the evidence presented could not permit any rational jury to conclude that O'Laughlin was the assailant beyond a reasonable doubt.

Court of Appeals Reverses Conviction of client Michael O'Laughlin

In a rare decision upholding a lower court decision overturning a jury verdict, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [SJC] in the murder case of client Michael O'Laughlin. Citing the "the extremely high bar " in such instances, the court found in part: "Taken together, the circumstantial evidence in this case, even when drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the prosecution, does not permit any rational jury to conclude that O'Laughlin was the assailant beyond a reasonable doubt." The opinion is notable for its thorough parsing--and ultimate rejection-- of the consciousness of guilt evidence cited by the SJC.

The court summed up the case as follows:

"A Massachusetts Superior Court jury had convicted O'Laughlin of the following counts: (1) burglary and armed assault in a dwelling; (2) armed assault in a dwelling; (3) armed assault with intent to murder; and(4) assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The Superior Court then sentenced O'Laughlin to 35-50 years on Counts One and Two; 19-20 years on Count 3; and 9-10 years on Count 4, ruling that the sentences were to be served concurrently.

The intermediate Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the judgments holding that there was insufficient evidence to support the verdicts. Commonwealth v. O'Laughlin, 830 N.E.2d 222 (Mass. App. Ct. 2005) (hereinafter "O'Laughlin I"). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") reinstated the judgment reasoning that there was sufficient evidence to support the verdicts. Commonwealth v. O'Laughlin, 843 N.E.2d 617 (Mass. 2006) (hereinafter "O'Laughlin II").

O'Laughlin filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on grounds that (1) the SJC's (which had ruled that was objectively unreasonable because there was insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict and (2) that the SJC violated his constitutional right to present a defense. The district court denied O'Laughlin's petition for habeas relief.

After careful consideration, we reverse the judgment of the district court and order the district court to grant the petition. "

A full factual recounting of the case is found here. Michael remains in prison pending a state appeal for an en banc hearing by a full panel of 1st Circuit judges.