Commonwealth v. FernandesAnnotate this Case
The Supreme Judicial Court held in this plurality opinion that it is generally advisable for prosecutors to instruct grand juries on the elements of lesser offenses and defenses when such instructions would help the grand jury to understand the legal significance of mitigating circumstances and defenses but that the indictment in this case should not have been dismissed.
Specifically at issue was whether the Commonwealth's failure to provide instructions to the grand jury regarding the significance of the mitigating evidence it presented required dismissal of an indictment against an adult for murder in the first degree. The justices who subscribed to this plurality opinion held that the dismissal of an indictment due to the lack of instructions is appropriate when the instructions likely would have given effect to a complete defense. Two other justices would hold that the integrity of a grand jury is impaired by a prosecutor's failure to give instructions only in cases where there has been affirmative prosecutorial misconduct. The Supreme Judicial Court held that because this case failed to satisfy the standards for dismissal set forth in the plurality opinion and the concurring opinion, the indictment should not have been dismissed.