(Posted February 29, 2024) The Supreme Court today decides Commonwealth v. Smith, an appeal of convictions for rape and object sexual penetration, where the victim was a child under the age of 13. You’ll readily appreciate that this is a very serious charge; the mandatory sentence for the charges is life in prison. The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the convictions, holding among other things that the trial court erroneously denied his request for funds to hire an expert.

The Commonwealth sought and received a writ, and today the Supreme Court reverses and reinstates the life sentences. The justices find that the trial court acted within its discretion; it did allot some funds for one expert who, for reasons not apparent in the record, didn’t end up testifying or even appearing to proffer his evidence. The Supreme Court also agrees with the circuit court’s decision not to permit a law professor to testify about the prevalence of false confessions and the susceptibility of some suspects to a specific interrogation technique. The justices conclude that this is really psychiatric evidence; not a law professor’s turf.

The court turns aside an Eighth Amendment challenge to the mandatory life sentence. Justice McCullough, writing for a unanimous court, observes that stiff prison sentences are fairly common among our sister states, and there’s nothing about this crime that militates against life in prison.