Recently in Criminal Allegations Category

April 14, 2014

"I Don't Want to Talk" Sufficient to Invoke Right to Remain Silent

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) reversed a superior court judge's denial of a motion to suppress statements made by a defendant after he invoked his right to remain silent. The SJC found that the defendant sufficiently indicated to the interrogating officer that he was invoking that right.

In Commonwealth v. Hearns, the defendant was charged with the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy and the wounding of a fifteen-year-old boy in Jamaica Plain. The police suspected that the boys were shot in connection with a feud between two rival gangs in the area. According to their investigation, the defendant had admitted to a witness that he and others drove up to a basketball court on Heath Street, and the defendant, at the direction of older members in his gang, approached the victims, shot at them multiple times, and fled back to the vehicle and drove away. The defendant had also allegedly admitted his participation in the murder to another witness. That witness agreed to cooperate with the police, and consented to wearing a concealed recording device. During a recorded conversation between the defendant and the cooperating witness in an automobile, the defendant described how he committed the shooting.

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March 31, 2014

Appeals Court Reverses Shooting Conviction Based on Insufficient Evidence

In Commonwealth v. Lobo, the defendant was convicted of two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, after he was tried for the shootings of two brothers on Hancock Street in Brockton in 2005. At trial, the Commonwealth called only one eyewitness to testify. That witness, the victims' father, testified that he heard rapid gunshots fired while a white car was driving in front of him and his sons. He did not see a gun, a muzzle flash, or the faces of any of the people in the car. He was unable to say whether the gunshot sounds had come from the area of the white car, but assumed that they had.

The father further testified that when the white car drove away, he discovered that his sons had both been shot. He then heard the car return at a high speed and a car door open. He momentarily saw a male, who he later identified as the defendant, standing outside of the car. The father testified that he then heard two or three more shots fired, but he could not tell where those shots had come from. He never saw a gun in the defendant's possession.

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March 24, 2014

'Dangerous Weapon' Not Necessarily a 'Deadly Weapon' for Purposes of Enhanced Sentencing Statute

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a judgment against a criminal defendant who had been sentenced by a superior court judge under the sentencing enhancement provisions of the Massachusetts Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). In relevant part, the ACCA applies to any person who has been previously and in separate instances been convicted of three violent crimes, or three serious drug offenses, or any combination of violent crimes or serious drug offenses that total three. Under the ACCA, if a person with such a criminal history is found to be in unlawful possession of a firearm under the applicable Massachusetts firearms laws, he may face a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison. The statute defines a "violent crime" as, among other criteria, a crime that involved the use or possession of a "deadly weapon."

In Commonwealth v. Boyd, the defendant's adult criminal record included convictions for the unlicensed carrying of a firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition. However, the defendant also had juvenile convictions for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault by means of a dangerous weapon, and assault and battery on a public employee. In this case, the defendant was further convicted of unlawful possession of a sawed-off shotgun, unlawful possession of ammunition without a firearms identification card, unlawful possession of a loaded sawed-off shotgun, unlawful discharge of a firearm, and two counts of reckless endangerment of a child.

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March 17, 2014

Massachusetts High Court Examines Statute Permitting Defendants to Seek Post-Conviction DNA Testing

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued its opinion in Commonwealth v. Wade relative to the standards applicable to M.G.L. c. 278A, a statute enacted in 2012 that provides convicted and incarcerated defendants access to forensic and scientific analysis of evidence used to convict them. The statute's purpose was "to remedy the injustice of wrongful convictions of factually innocent persons by allowing access to analyses of biological material with newer forensic and scientific techniques."

In Wade, the defendant was convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder on a theory of felony-murder and aggravated rape. The defendant was accused of raping the 83-year-old victim who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and who lived on the farm where the defendant worked. The victim was allegedly found naked on the defendant's bed on the property with injuries, which later led to complications and eventually her death. Evidence found on the victim and her clothing showed the presence of semen and sperm, but neither the defendant nor the Commonwealth sought DNA testing of the evidence. Since at least 2002, the defendant has been attempting to obtain DNA testing of the physical evidence against him, with the belief that it will exonerate him of the crimes for which he has been convicted. Each such attempt has been unsuccessful.

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March 10, 2014

SJC Announces New Standard for Withdrawal of Guilty Pleas in Cases Involving Annie Dookhan Misconduct

On March 5, 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Scott, relative to the standard for permitting a criminal defendant to withdraw his guilty plea in cases in which Annie Dookhan, the state forensic drug chemist, was directly involved in the analysis of drug evidence that preceded the defendant's guilty plea. In doing so, the SJC has announced a new standard applicable to guilty pleas to address the hundreds of criminal drug cases that potentially involved Dookhan's misconduct and may have interfered with the proper administration of criminal justice.

The SJC's opinion recounts in detail Dookhan's extensive misconduct and the investigations that exposed it. Dookhan's alleged misconduct, which began as early as 2004 and occurred into 2011, included removing drug samples against lab protocol; forging the initials of evidence officers on lab records; improperly grouping samples from a number of cases together, and reporting results for all sample tests that applied only to a few tests; and intentionally contaminating samples, including turning negative samples into positive samples. Because Dookhan's misconduct seems to have been motivated only by a desire to increase her apparent productivity, Dookhan has been unable to identify those specific cases in which she improperly tested samples or inaccurately reported on tested samples.

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February 27, 2014

SJC Holds District Court Judge Should Not Have Accepted Defendant's Guilty Plea

This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that a defendant who had pleaded guilty to resisting arrest was entitled to a new trial on the charges, where the district court judge failed to determine that a sufficient factual basis existed for the resisting arrest charge.

The SJC analyzed the applicable criminal procedure in Commonwealth v. Hart. Under Massachusetts law, a guilty plea will generally be valid if it is made voluntarily and intelligently. To be made "intelligently," one of three things must occur: (1) the judge explains the elements of the crime to the defendant; (2) the defendant's attorney explains the elements of the crime to the defendant; or (3) the defendant admits the facts constituting the crime, even if he is not aware that the facts admitted amount to a crime. In this case, both the defendant and his attorney confirmed that the attorney had discussed the charges or the nature and elements of the offense. Based upon that, the district court judge accepted the guilty plea and sentenced the defendant.

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February 17, 2014

Improper Procedure for Discharge of Deliberating Juror Results in Reversal of Guilty Verdict

Last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued an opinion in Commonwealth v. Garcia that reversed a jury's guilty verdict on the grounds that the judge did not follow appropriate procedures in discharging a juror during deliberations.

The defendant was charged with armed robbery, and the case was tried in superior court. About approximately three hours of deliberating, the jury sent a note to the judge, stating that they had not been able to come to a unanimous decision. The judge did not believe that the jury had deliberated long enough to show a deadlock, and instructed the jury to resume deliberations the following day.

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February 10, 2014

Mere Use of License Plate Cover Not Grounds for Traffic Stop

Today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Bernard, affirming the decision of a Lawrence District Court judge to suppress evidence obtained from the defendant's vehicle when a Massachusetts State Trooper pulled the defendant's vehicle over after observing a plastic cover on the vehicle's rear license plate. The decision resulted in the suppression of statements and evidence supporting firearm charges against the defendant.

In June 2009, the trooper observed the defendant operating a vehicle on Route 495 southbound. The trooper, who was traveling in the first lane, allegedly was unable to see the license plate of the defendant's vehicle, which he observed from an angle as the defendant's vehicle traveled in the third lane. The license plate was covered with a clear, but tinted, plastic cover. For this reason only, the trooper pulled up behind the defendant's vehicle and activated his cruiser lights to pull the defendant over. The trooper observed no other traffic violations.

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January 27, 2014

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel May Be Grounds for Withdrawal of Guilty Plea

Today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Almonte, discussing the standard for a criminal defendant to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

In 2005, the defendant was charged with one count of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and one count of assault and battery on a child causing injury, arising out of allegations that he had physically abused his minor daughter. Following plea discussions, the defendant and the Commonwealth agreed to plead guilty on both counts, with concurrent sentences of one-year of confinement, suspended for two years, upon certain probationary terms. The defendant and the Commonwealth submitted a "Tender of Plea" form, also known as the "green sheet," to the Lawrence District Court, outlining these terms.

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January 22, 2014

SJC Justices Disagree as to Effect of Prosecutor's Seemingly Inconsistent Statements at Two Separate Trials

This week, a 4-3 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decision highlighted the justices' conflicting views on the prejudicial effect on a criminal defendant when a prosecutor urges a jury to believe that one person was the principal actor in a murder at one trial, and, failing to convince that jury, urges a different jury to believe that the defendant pulled the trigger in the defendant's subsequent trial.

In Commonwealth v. Keo, Keo faced a charge of first degree murder in the shooting death of the victim, who was a member of a rival gang, in Lynn in November 2007. The evidence in that case suggested that, on that date, Bonrad Sok had called Keo, and Keo joined Sok and others at a restaurant where the victim and his girlfriend were also present. About five weeks prior to that time, the victim had stabbed Keo.

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January 6, 2014

Drug Trafficking Conviction Reversed Based Upon Invalid Warrantless Search of Vehicle

In many cases, the evidence obtained against a criminal defendant can and should be suppressed in court, based upon the police's violation of the defendant's constitutional rights in obtaining that evidence. Generally, if the police did not follow constitutional procedure, then a jury may not know about the evidence obtained as a result of the constitutional violation. A recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case illustrates this concept.

In Commonwealth v. Diaz, the defendant was convicted of trafficking cocaine in an amount of 28 grams or more, based upon two packages of cocaine that the police seized from the defendant's vehicle during a warrantless search of the vehicle. Several months prior to his arrest, the police had obtained information from a confidential informant that the defendant sold drugs, including at a building where a business named Family Oil was located, and that he packaged drugs there.

The police observed the defendant's vehicle parked behind the Family Oil building, located on private property, and entered the property. They saw the defendant exit the building and quickly place his jacket into his car and try to go back into the building. The police immediately seized and restrained the defendant. They then entered the building, searched the occupants, and found cocaine on two of them. Returning outside, the police searched the defendant's vehicle, without a warrant to do so, and found two bags of cocaine.

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September 13, 2013

Student Athletes Accused of Hazing, Rape at Preseason Camps

Currently, there are as many as six players for the Chelmsford High School football team being investigated for alleged hazing of one of their teammates. The incident is said to have occurred in August New Hampshire while the team was there for an overnight preseason camp, and included, at the very least, "unwanted contact".

The team was at Camp Robindel, and spent three nights there with approximately ten coaches supervising the 100 underclassmen. Camp Robindel is normally a girl's summer camp, but was closed to campers at the team. The high school has been leasing the camp for its preseason training for thirteen years now, and does not supervise the students.

Injuries to the student in question did not require any medical attention. There are as many as six teammates being investigated for their potential roles in the hazing.

News of the hazing comes only a week after Somerville athletes were accused of assaulting a teammate with a broomstick. An arraignment for Galilleo Mondol, a 17-year-old suspect in that case, was held on September 3rd, and many new details emerged during it.

Mondol, along with two 16-year-olds, is accused of assaulting a freshman. The students were away at Camp Lenox, which is located in Otis, MA, for a preseason team building retreat. Both of the 16-year-olds are still juveniles, and because of this have been left unnamed.

The three suspects are said to have entered a freshman cabin, where they picked out one of the players. He was then forced to get on the floor on his hands and knees, at which point the suspects are said to have gotten the broom and used it to rape him. Rachel Eramo, the Berkshire Assistant District Attorney, said Eramo initially told the other two students to stop but changed his mind after the assault had begun.

Following the attack, witnesses at the scene have described the victim as crying and bleeding. Police later found bloody tissues in the cabin and found a stain they believe to be blood in the bathroom, where the victim was.

After the assault, the suspects attempted to assault two of the other freshman in the cabin. However, the freshman were able to fight them and off and were poked with the broomstick but not raped. All of the boys were members of the Somerville High School Junior Varsity soccer team.

As the suspects left the cabin, one of the witnesses told them he would be informing someone about what happened. At this point, Mondol turned to him and said, "you better keep your mouth shut". After camp ended, Mondol and the other suspects continued to intimidate the freshmen using Facebook and Twitter.

Bail for Mondol was set at $100,000 cash, which he was able to meet that same afternoon. He is pleading not guilty to all of the charges.

May 4, 2012

Men Suspected of Stabbing Cab Driver in Boston

Two men are being held on $10,000 bail after allegedly stabbing a cab driver near Washington and Lenox Streets in the South End after a failed robbery attempt. The men are being charged with armed assault with intent to rob, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and unlawfully carrying a dangerous weapon.

Boston Police reported that the cab driver, 50, of Lynn, sustained life-threatening injuries after being stabbed several times following the failed robbery attempt. Police arrived to the scene around 1:22 a.m., after receiving a distress report of the stabbing.

The driver was rushed to Boston Medical Center as Boston Police attempted to track down the suspects. Police were able to quickly locate one of the suspects who had blood on his hands and face and was carrying a knife. The suspect then gave police a description of his accomplice who was then taken into custody.

To read the full article, click here.

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April 5, 2012

Brockton Man Registers a Breathalyzer Test Score of .384

A Brockton man was reportedly pulled over by the Rhode Island State Police in Providence, and suspected of drunk driving. Apparently, upon arrival at the police station, the suspect agreed to submit to a breathalyzer test.

Keeping in mind that the legal limit is .08, the suspect registered a staggering .384. Deni Carise, the senior vice president and chief clinical officer at PhoEnix House addiction recovery center reportedly advised that, using industry standards, a male about the same size and body weight of the suspect would have to consume 20 alcoholic beverages in the previous hour to reach the recorded breathalyzer test score of .384.

Analysis by Parker | Scheer LLP Attorney Vincent A. Tofani:

The frighteningly high score reported indicates one thing to me: a faulty breathalyzer machine. As a practicing criminal defense attorney, I have never represented an individual that registered such a high score after submitting to a breathalyzer test. In my experience, any individual with such a high blood alcohol level would not be able to function; instead, would likely be in a near death coma.

Inaccurate breathalyzer test scores as a result of both human and mechanical error are all too common in cases involving suspected drunk driving. This is one of the many reasons that we advise our clients to exercise their right to politely decline to submit to the breathalyzer test after they have been arrested. Instead, a more accurate mechanism for measuring one's blood alcohol level is to go directly to a hospital where a health care professional can draw a blood sample.

Both the Massachusetts General Laws and the Code of Massachusetts Regulations include guidelines addressing the proper maintenance of the machines, and method of conducting the particular test in an attempt to mitigate the likelihood of inaccurate scores being recorded. Notwithstanding, these machines often malfunction, and the results can be devastating for an individual suspected of operating under the influence of alcohol because the state courts of the Commonwealth treat the breathalyzer test score as prima face evidence of impairment, which is one of the elements of the offense that the prosecutor is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. In other words, the element of impairment is satisfied, as a matter of law, when an individual registers a breathalyzer test score of .08 or higher.

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April 3, 2012

Allegations of Operating Under the Influence

Patricia Anderson, Norwell Town Clerk, was arrested on March 16, 2012, by Hingham Police, and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol. The Patriot Ledger reported allegations made by police that Anderson was found standing in a pool of gasoline, next to her sport utility vehicle, which was stuck on a traffic island. It appeared that she had been travelling south on Whiting Street (Rt 53) Hingham, when she struck the island at the Gardner Street intersection, knocking over the "keep right" sign and blowing out two tires.

Ms. Anderson, 61, of Norwell, appeared confused, and had trouble answering questions according to the Hingham police officer, who noted that he could detect a strong odor of alcohol on Ms. Anderson.

According to the Ledger, the police allege that Anderson admitted to having consumed three glasses of wine earlier in the evening. She was arrested after a series of sobriety tests, charged with drunken driving and failure to stay within a marked lane. She was to be arraigned in Hingham District Court on Monday, March 19, 2012.

Read the entire Patriot Ledger article here.

Analysis by Parker | Scheer LLP Attorney Francis T. O'Brien, Jr.:

This story, as reported in the Ledger, is an example of how certain allegations by police may be presented in a manner which causes the casual reader and inexperienced trial observer to conclude that the operator was guilty of operating under the influence. However, after more than 25 years of practicing criminal defense law, including handling thousands of OUI/DWI cases, many in the Hingham District Court, I have learned that most often the complete story and true facts do not appear in police reports or newspapers. This is not to insinuate that police officers or journalists are intentionally untruthful, (although some undoubtedly are). It is more a product of the fact that police reports are written after a defendant has already been arrested, so police officers will naturally record those observations which they believe support their decision to arrest. Police reports are not written in a manner reflective of what a judge or jury might write if they were analyzing all of the facts surrounding an arrest and applying a neutral and detached eye to the rendering of a verdict.

The fact of the matter is that police officers are "interested" parties in cases where they have made an arrest. It is a natural human tendency to recollect facts favorable to support one's decision and police officers do just that. They present themselves in the most flattering way possible. This oft times slanted view can be further exacerbated when newspapers report on arrests. Most often, newspaper articles reporting on arrests receive their facts exclusively from the police, either directly or through court prosecutors reciting the words of the police. Therefore a newspaper article on an arrest is often times reporting a totally one sided account of the facts.

This case illustrates the importance of being represented by an experienced and knowledgeable drunk driving/OUI/DWI attorney, whether in Hingham District Court or any other District Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I see numerous issues which may be effectively developed for the defendant in this case:

Any time there is a motor vehicle accident, dazed, erratic, unsteady or confused behavior might be attributable to injuries suffered in the collision. Symptoms which police attempt to portray as signs of alcohol impairment may be equally consistent with injury. Additionally, a question arises how a police officer encountering a defendant standing in a pool of gasoline, which obviously emits overpowering noxious fumes, might detect the odor of alcohol from the defendant?

The fact that a defendant may have consumed alcohol earlier in the evening is by no means an indication that the defendant was legally impaired. It is not a crime to drink and drive. It is only a crime if the amount of alcohol consumption has diminished the person's ability to operate safely. Three glasses of wine does not necessarily constitute legal impairment and the passage of time only serves to diminish the effect of the alcohol.

Other than alleging that the defendant was arrested after submitting to field sobriety tests, there are no details in this article concerning the tests. Field sobriety tests are entirely subjective. Often times at trial, when all of the relevant facts are brought out by a skilled and knowledgeable drunk driving attorney, juries do not agree with the opinions expressed by police officers concerning the reasonableness of the defendant's field sobriety performance.

With regard to the accident, there are many reasons why people are involved in accidents, other than alcohol impairment. It will be interesting to watch this case proceed in the Hingham District Court.

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