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Crime of Perjury in Massachusetts

courthouse-1330873-m-2.jpgTo prove the crime of perjury in Massachusetts, a prosecutor must prove (1) a defendant was required by law to state the truth in a judicial proceeding, (2) the defendant willfully testified falsely, and (3) the false statement was material to something at issue. What is materiality in this context? Something is material to the extent it reasonably affects an aspect or result of the judicial inquiry.

A recent case arose from a defendant’s conviction for perjury after he testified to a grand jury as to a shooting death. The defendant’s cousin was a suspect and was indicted for the murder. The issue in the defendant’s perjury trial was whether he had falsely testified to the grand jury.

The victim was shot near Maynard Street in Springfield just after midnight in May 2008. The defendant had testified to the grand jury he was with Keison Cuffee at another cousin’s (Whitney Walton) house on Westminster Street in Springfield until 1:15 a.m., providing the person with an alibi.

At the perjury trial, the prosecutor called Walton as a witness and she testified that the defendant and Cuffee had arrived at midnight that night, but left to go a store and came back 20 minutes later. The inconsistency was noted and the prosecutor impeached her testimony with a prior inconsistent statement that she had made in which she said they went to the market earlier, came back and stayed 10 minutes before laving around 11:45 p.m. Of critical importance, the judge did not give a limiting instruction to the jury. Walton’s testimony was able to be considered for all purposes.

Also at the perjury trial, the government read testimony from the other case to give context to their charge of perjury. The judge told the jury that the testimony was offered not for the truth of what was said, but in order to show the nature of the grand jury’s investigation. The prosecutor’s goal was to give the jury context from which to determine if the defendant’s testimony addressed the two issues that the grand jury was considering.

Deja Waldon’s testimony was read to show Cuffey’s gang affiliation. She also testified about a conversation in which the friend to whom the defendant gave an alibi said the victim deserved to be shot. After the testimony was shared, the judge told the jury the testimony was not submitted for the truth of what was said but just to show whether the defendant’s testimony was material to the earlier proceeding.

After the government presented its case, the defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty. The judge denied the motion. At the close of the Commonwealth’s case, the defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty. That motion was denied. The jury convicted the defendant of perjury.

Afterward, the judge held a post-conviction hearing on the defendant’s renewed motion for a required finding of not guilty and reasoned that the woman’s testimony had been admitted for all purposes and the testimony altogether was a reasonable basis for the conviction.

The defendant moved for a new trial and claimed ineffective assistance of counsel The judge allowed the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing. The government appealed filed a memorandum of decision that allowing the defendant’s motion without holding an evidentiary hearing. The government appealed.

The appellate court explained that in Massachusetts, a judge may permit a motion for a new trial if it appears justice was not done. In this case, the motion judge had decided that failing to get a limiting instruction about the woman’s testimony did not get to the level of an ineffective assistance of counsel argument. The appellate court disagreed.

To show effective assistance of counsel, a defendant has to show serious incompetency that is much lower than what can be expected from ordinary fallibility and that because of that the defendant was deprived of an otherwise available defense. In this case, the defense attorney’s failure to get a limiting instruction deprived him of a fair perjury trial.

Because Walton’s testimony was admitted for all purposes and was extremely prejudicial, it destroyed the defendant’s defense. This error was made worse because other testimony was read, revealing the defendant’s own gang affiliations. Therefore the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s granting of a motion for new trial.

On the other hand, the motion judge had found the defendant’s testimony was not material to the grand jury investigation and that the prosecutor failed to prove an element of the crime of perjury. The appellate court explained this was erroneous. The defendant had given Cuffee an alibi, which was material.

The prosecutor also argued that the judge should have held an evidentiary hearing. While this is unusual, the appellate court found it warranted in this case. The appellate court affirmed the lower court allowing a motion for new trial.

If you are arrested for drug sales or another crime, the prosecutor will try to build a strong case against you using multiple theories, such as conspiracy and trafficking, as described above. A Boston criminal defense attorney with experience in these types of cases can mount a strong defense on your behalf. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts drug crime charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or through this website.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in Mandatory Minimum Case Alleyne v. U.S., Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
Court of Appeals Ruling Affirms Prior Conviction Record Insufficient to Establish Identity, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 11, 2013