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Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Requirement that Prosecution Must Prove All Elements Relating to Crimes For Which Jury Will Be Instructed at Trial

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts seated in Suffolk County handed down a decision earlier this year regarding a defendant who had been unlawfully indicted on a charge which the prosecution had not fully proven.instruction_manual.jpg

In the case, Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 83 Mass. App. Ct. 267 (2013), following a jury trial in Superior Court, the defendant was found guilty of rape aggravated by kidnapping; kidnapping aggravated by sexual assault; and indecent assault and battery. The judge sentenced him on the aggravated rape and indecent assault and battery charges, and placed the indictment for aggravated kidnapping on file, to which the defendant objected. The defendant’s appeal centered on the filed indictment. He argued that, the jury instruction setting forth the elements of aggravated kidnapping was erroneous.

Under the relevant portion of the statute, “[w]hoever commits any offense described in this section [the crime of kidnapping] while armed with a dangerous weapon and inflicts serious bodily injury thereby upon another person or who sexually assaults such person…” shall be found guilty of the crime. [emphasis added by court].

The defendant argued that the statute required the proof that he was armed with a dangerous weapon in addition to having committed one of the other acts in order to instruct the jury on the charge of kidnapping. The court found that because this interpretation was plausible, and incidentally supported by other case law, his interpretation prevails. The court did not need to, and therefore did not, consider whether the Commonwealth’s reading of the statutory language was also plausible.

At trial, the Commonwealth’s claim that defendant was armed was based solely on testimony by the witness/victim, that he was armed. No weapon was ever seen or recovered. Furthermore, the jury acquitted the defendant of armed robbery, the only crime for which they were instructed that actual possession of a weapon was a required element.

Therefore, the court held that the fact that the Commonwealth did not instruct the jury that the presence of a dangerous weapon was a necessary element for the aggravated kidnapping charge, the omission was likely sufficiently significant to infer that the jury may have decided otherwise but for the error. Thus, the court agreed that the instruction was erroneous, and found that the guilty verdict on that charge must be set aside.

This decision only affirms the concept well known by defense counsel, that the government must prove every element of the crimes they charge beyond a reasonable doubt. A failure to do so should always equate to an acquittal or dismissal of charges.

The criminal offense of rape is a serious crime to be accused of and requires powerful legal representation to defend against harmful allegations. The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy is a respected Massachusetts legal services provider, known for its integrity and its history of successes. The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy is available 24/7 to provide you with a free legal assessment of your case. For additional information, please call 617-367-0450 or submit the confidential online contact form on our website.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Lower Sentence in Case Affected by Change in Mandatory Minimum Sentence Law, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published November 26, 2013
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decision Strikes Officer Testimony in OUI Cases, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published November 21, 2013