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Self-Defense in a Massachusetts Assault Case

fighting dogsIn a recent Massachusetts appellate case, the defendant was convicted of assault and battery on a girlfriend. He appealed on the grounds that the conviction was a result of speculation and conjecture and that there were no findings to support it.

The appellate court explained that after a defendant raises self-defense while being prosecuted for assault and battery, the burden shifts to the prosecutor to show the defendant didn’t act in self-defense. This requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant didn’t use all appropriate ways to avoid physical fighting before resorting to the use of force. Generally the right of self-defense can’t be claimed by someone who starts the fight or assault unless he withdraws from the fight and lets the other party know that this is what he’s doing.

In this case, the defendant argued that the judge hadn’t properly considered whether he acted in self-defense based on his speculative finding that he and the victim had been involved in a mutual fight, rather than a one-sided attack. He basically argued that the evidence was insufficient on the issue of self-defense. The appellate court reviewed whether a rational fact-finder could find the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt he hadn’t acted to defend himself.

The appellate court disagreed with the defendant. It pointed out that the judge’s use of “mutual combat” in context didn’t speculate that the defendant and victim agreed to a duel. Instead, the record showed that the judge had properly considered the defendant’s self-defense argument and the prosecution’s evidence in order to find he didn’t act in self-defense.

The judge stated that there were assaults and batteries by both the defendant and the victim, and the testimony of both parties and the police officer corroborated this statement. The judge put responsibility on both the defendant and the victim, finding that neither had acted to defend themselves. He inferred that because of the parties’ purposeful acts, whether or not they were appropriately deemed “mutual combat,” neither party had tried sufficiently to avoid physical fighting before deciding to use force in the situation.

The judge also determined that since the defendant was the first aggressor in the situation, he wasn’t entitled to use self-defense. The victim had explained that the defendant punched her in the face and was the first to initiate a physical touching. The defendant said he hadn’t punched her and claimed the victim had put her finger in his face and taken him by his neck. The defendant admitted that he took the victim’s hands and that this caused her to fall into the closet.

The defense attorney argued that this testimony supported the claim of self-defense, but the judge stated that the testimony showed this was the defendant pushing the victim into the closet. The judge found the victim’s testimony about the defendant’s first punch to be credible. No evidence was put forward to show the defendant’s good-faith withdrawal or announcement of an intent to stop. Therefore, he wasn’t entitled to claim self-defense. The judgment was affirmed.

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