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Intentional Assault and Battery in Massachusetts

neighborhoodIn Commonwealth v. Romero, a Massachusetts defendant appealed from a conviction arising from M.G. L. c. 265, § 13A(a), which covers assault and battery. The defendant argued that the judge improperly denied her motion for a required finding of not guilty and had given incorrect jury instructions regarding the elements of the crime and the burden of proof.

The case arose when the defendant became angry over a dispute between her daughter and the victim’s son. The victim was a woman who lived across the street with her husband. In 2010, the defendant and her husband argued with the victim and her husband. It escalated into a physical confrontation in the victim’s hallway. The victim wasn’t injured, and the defendant, her husband, and two other men left the house. However, minutes later, the defendant came back into the victim’s house with a machete and tried to kick the victim’s five-year-old son. The victim’s husband punched the defendant to protect the son. The victim felt somebody pull her hair and push her down. The husband pushed the defendant off his wife.

The defendant’s husband then came back with the two other men and attacked the husband. Later, the victim’s daughter testified she saw the defendant and her mother fight. The defendant was convicted at trial.

The appellate court explained that a defendant is entitled to a required finding of not guilty only if the evidence is not legally sufficient to result in a conviction. The issue for the appellate court was whether any rational trier of fact could have found the elements of assault and battery beyond a reasonable doubt. In Massachusetts, assault and battery may be proven by showing either (1) intentional battery or (2) reckless battery. In this case, at trial, the Commonwealth presented a case of intentional assault and battery, which means the intentional, unjustified use of force on someone else, even if it’s slight.

The defendant argued that the evidence didn’t show an intentional touching. The court disagreed, stating that the testimony showed somebody had grabbed the victim’s hair, and the victim’s husband had testified that he pushed the defendant off his wife. It reasoned that a rational juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who grabbed the wife’s hair and threw her down was the same person who was pushed off her later.

The appellate court also considered the defendant’s argument that an erroneous jury instruction was given. First, the defendant argued that the instruction was confusing as to the burden of proof necessary to prove assault and battery. The court explained that the judge had properly addressed the burden of proof on the Commonwealth but also misspoke once. After misspeaking, the judge reiterated that it was actually the Commonwealth’s burden of proof. The court explained that an error in a charge is determined by looking at the whole charge, not examining bits and pieces out of context. A single misstatement is not considered a substantial miscarriage of justice, given the overall effect.

The defendant also argued that the judge failed to provide an instruction that the battery would need to occur without the victim’s consent. The judge had instructed that the Commonwealth needed to establish that the offense was harmful or offensive. The court explained that consent isn’t an issue if a touching is harmful. An offensive touching, on the other hand, has to do with a lack of consent and an affront to personal integrity. The court explained that it would have been better to instruct that an offensive battery was a touching without consent. However, since the defendant didn’t object, and the instruction didn’t create a substantial risk of injustice, given that there was no suggestion the victim had consented in this case, the court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

If you are charged in Massachusetts with an assault crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014