Somebody can be found guilty of a criminal offense even if he or she didn’t actually commit the crime but aided and abetted the perpetrator of the offense in a “joint venture.” You can be guilty if you intentionally act with another to commit a crime in order to bring it about and make it succeed. In some cases, statements made by someone in a joint venture are used to convict his or her partner.
In Commonwealth v. DiGregorio, the defendant was found guilty of home invasion, kidnapping, assault, and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. On appeal, he claimed that the judge had improperly admitted statements between two friends, these statements didn’t fall under any exceptions to the hearsay rule, and they were therefore inadmissible.
One of the exceptions at issue was the joint venture exception to the hearsay rule. Under this rule, when joint criminal venturers make out-of-court statements against others, these statements are admissible if they are made while a criminal enterprise is pending and in order to further it. The judge must determine whether there was a criminal joint venture between the person making the statement and the defendant, but the judge doesn’t need to make a preliminary ruling that there was a joint venture. The evidence can come in, subject to a motion to strike at a later time if the prosecution doesn’t show there actually was a criminal enterprise. The judge needs to give a jury instruction informing the jury they can only consider the hearsay if they find there was a joint venture, based on all the other evidence except the hearsay statements.
In this case, the appellate court found there was enough evidence for the judge to decide there was a joint venture between the person who made the statement and the defendant. The other evidence to prove a joint venture included surveillance footage of both the defendant and the person making the statement buying equipment used in the crime, the equipment itself found in the declarant’s backpack and found in the trash can outside the defendant’s home, and the defendant’s own statements incriminating himself.
The appellate court found that the trial judge could reasonably determine the declarant’s statements were made while a criminal enterprise was pending and in order to further it. The declarant made the statements to his friend after the defendant and the declarant had bought the equipment to use for the joint venture. They were made to someone the declarant trusted and might have been made to get the friend to help in the joint venture, which he did.
The defendant argued that the judge had given improper instructions about joint venture hearsay because the judge didn’t say that coventurers’ statements could be considered only if they were made to further a joint venture. The judge had said the jury could consider the statement only with respect to relevant acts or statements that happened when a joint venture existed or while the joint venturers were working together to hide the crime. The appellate court found that while a more precise statement would be better, any error had not created a substantial risk that justice would be miscarried.
The defendant also argued that the judge had improperly admitted a recorded 911 call to the police under the spontaneous utterance exception to the hearsay rule. The appellate court disagreed, explaining that a spontaneous or excited utterance didn’t have to be strictly contemporaneous with the exciting event to be admissible. A statement could be considered spontaneous if it was made under the influence of an exciting event, before the person making the statement had time to make up a lie. The conviction was affirmed.
If you are charged in Massachusetts with a joint venture in a violent 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