Articles Posted in Assault Crimes/Violence

Homicide trials, especially those that appear to be gang-related, can garner a large amount of publicity. This exposure can place a lot of pressure on prosecutors to “win” a conviction and look good in the public eye. Although trials are not meant to be a spectacle purposed to make prosecutors look effective and tough on crime, this is the reality of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard an appeal by two defendants that challenged their convictions for gang-related second-degree murder.

The defendants in the recently decided case were charged with conspiring to shoot and kill a coworker. The victim was a member of a known gang, and the defendants were alleged to be members of a rival gang. Before the shooting, the defendants communicated by text message that the victim would be in a certain place at a certain time, and the defendants allegedly planned to meet each other at that place and intimidate or assault the victim. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, a man later identified as one of the defendants traveled by train to the area the victim was working, shot him in the head and fled the scene. After a chase, the shooter was apprehended and later arrested and charged with murder. The second defendant was later arrested and charged based on the text message communications between him and the other defendant, allegedly planning the murder.

Both defendants were charged with first-degree murder for the crime.

The Supreme Judicial Court recently reversed a defendant’s Massachusetts assault and battery conviction, finding that the trial court made a prejudicial error in excluding the defendant’s expert witness. After an altercation with two men, the court indicted the appellant on two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant argued that he acted in self-defense after one of the men attacked him based on racial animus. To substantiate his claim, the defendant proposed two expert witnesses that could testify that the man had a tattoo of a symbol affiliated with a white supremacist group. The judge excluded the witnesses, and the defendant was convicted.

On appeal, the court considered whether the trial judge incorrectly excluded the defendant’s experts. At trial, the defendant attempted to introduce two experts: one with a doctorate in cultural anthropology who studies the nationalist movement, and another with a doctorate in educational leadership and is an expert on gangs. The defendant argued that the judge’s finding that the experts were not reliable was an abuse of discretion.

Under Massachusetts law, expert testimony works to aid jurors in interpreting evidence that is outside common knowledge. The Daubert-Lanigan standard generally governs the admission of expert testimony. The testimony must stem from a “reliable foundation” and be “relevant to the task at hand” to meet this standard. Evidence is relevant if it tends to make a fact more or less probable.

Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated a lower court’s order permitting a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. The Massachusetts criminal case arose when police arrested the defendant in connection with a fatal shooting. According to the court’s opinion, officers confiscated the defendant’s cell phone and then obtained a search warrant to search it for evidence. Before trial, the judge granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the cell phone evidence. The judge reasoned that the police obtained the warrant without establishing a sufficient nexus between the murder and the defendant’s cell phone. She did not address whether the search was “sufficiently particular,” but she noted that the search was not “limited in time.” The Commonwealth appealed and the court reviewed whether there was probable cause and if the search exceeded the scope of the warrant.

The Fourth Amendment and Massachusetts Declaration of Rights require that a magistrate determine whether probable cause exists before issuing a search warrant. There must be a “substantial basis” that lead a fact finder to determine that the items sought are related to the criminal activity under investigation, and in the place to be searched when the warrant is issued. Essentially, along with probable cause, the government must establish a “nexus” between the item sought and the alleged crime. Probable cause inquiries are fact-based, and courts resolve them on a case-by-case basis.

In this case, an eyewitness described seeing a male standing over the victim then fleeing the scene in a light-colored vehicle with an out-of-state license plate. Another witness saw a light-colored sedan driving quickly down a street. He then saw the car’s occupants moving around in the car, as if they were changing their clothes. When police arrived, they found the three men, including the defendant, sitting in the car. After realizing that one of the men matched the shooter’s description, police removed all three men from the car. At the time, the defendant was talking on his cell phone. Officers discovered a firearm that had recently been fired. Moreover, the victim’s cell phone contained a violent conversation between the victim and a contact believed to be one of the occupants. After that, the detective received a warrant to search the defendant’s cell phone. The warrant did not have any date restrictions.

In a recent opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling analyzing sentencing enhancements in crimes committed while in possession of a firearm. The underlying case involved a defendant who was tried and convicted of two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant was also tried under a Massachusetts law that provides enhanced penalties for those who commit crimes while in possession of a firearm. The statute specifically states that an individual who is found to have committed a crime punishable by imprisonment in state prison while in possession of a firearm must receive at least five years imprisonment in addition to the penalty for the underlying offense. The defendant appealed his conviction under this statute.

The defendant argued that his enhanced penalty could not be based on his underlying convictions for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant argued that doing so was contrary to legislative intent and violated principles of double jeopardy. However, the court rejected his argument and denied his appeal. Speaking to legislative intent, the court noted that nothing within the statute prevented the Commonwealth from relying on the defendant’s specific underlying convictions. The court also interpreted the statute as intending to be used exactly as it had been in this case: to create an independent crime punishable by a separate sentence required to be served in addition to the underlying offense.

The court also stated that the defendant’s conviction and sentence did not violate the principles of double jeopardy. The prohibition against double jeopardy protects a person from being punished or tried twice for the same crime. In reaching its conclusion, the court pointed out that the statute creates a separate crime from the underlying root felony. Because the statute creates an entirely different crime from the underlying offense, a separate conviction and sentence do not violate principles of double jeopardy.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts assault case involving an interesting evidentiary issue. Specifically, the case required the court to determine if it was an error to admit the official criminal docket of the defendant’s friend whom he was with when he allegedly committed the assault. The docket indicated that the defendant’s friend pleaded guilty to a similar crime, involving the possession of a weapon. Ultimately, the court concluded that admission of the docket was a constitutional error that necessitated a new trial.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant and a friend, Charles, were involved in an altercation with two other men. Initially, the defendant and Charles saw one of the men at a gas station, where the confrontation began. However, as the man drove from the gas station to a friend’s home, the defendant and Charles followed.

When the man parked in the driveway at his friend’s house, the defendant pulled behind. The defendant then got out and approached the driver’s side window of the man’s truck. At some point, the man rolled the window down slightly and the defendant pushed it down the rest of the way and struck him in the face. The man’s friend, who was sitting on the porch, ran down and tackled the defendant. Charles had a knife and, while this was going on, he got out of the car and threatened to kill both other men and to assault their family members.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts assault case brought against a student who was involved in a serious fight resulting in the victim sustaining several broken bones. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether a statement made by the defendant to a police officer was admissible when it was made after the officer made assurances that the defendant’s cooperation would likely result in his not being charged with a felony. Ultimately, the court concluded that under the totality of the circumstances, the police officer’s untrue statement rendered the defendant’s statement involuntary.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was involved in a fight with a fellow student at a house party. After the fight, the complaining witness was taken to the hospital and treated for his injuries. He later spoke to police, telling them what happened but stating that he could not identify who it was who attacked him.

The police conducted an investigation and obtained some evidence tying the defendant to the house party. The assigned investigator contacted a less senior officer and asked him to call the defendant to see what he knew. The detective told the officer that he believed another person was responsible for the assault, but the defendant was involved, and if the defendant cooperated, he would potentially be charged with a less serious crime.

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At a Massachusetts juvenile crime trial, a teenager was adjudicated delinquent for assault and illegal possession of a dangerous weapon at school. He claimed on appeal that there wasn’t enough evidence for the judge to adjudicate delinquency on the dangerous weapon charge, among other things.

The teenager was in high school. A teacher saw he’d taped pins to his fingers, and some were on his backpack. They were safety pins without hooks and with jagged edges. When the teacher asked what was on his fingers, he answered he was Edward Scissorhands. He gave her the pins at her request.

Under MGL c. 269 section 10(j), you can be convicted for carrying a firearm or other dangerous weapon on your person in school. The teenager argued that there wasn’t enough evidence that the pins should be considered a dangerous weapon. The law includes as dangerous weapons objects that are made and designed to cause great bodily injury or death or to assault or defend. In this case, there was no argument that the pins on the boy’s fingers were dangerous per se. To sustain the adjudication of delinquency, there had to be a finding that the pins were dangerous as he used them.

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In a recent Massachusetts appellate decision, the defendant was convicted of assault and battery with a deadly weapon on a pregnant person, as well as ordinary assault and battery on a pregnant woman and a violation of an abuse prevention order. He argued on appeal that the prosecutor’s misstatements warranted granting a new trial.

This Massachusetts assault case arose when the defendant began dating the victim, who was pregnant by about three or four months. They argued while staying at a friend’s. The victim tried to stop the conversation, and in response, the defendant punched her face. He stole her handbag, including the money and a cell phone chip that were in it.

Later, while they were staying at a hotel with another couple, the defendant left. When he got back, he found her showering and accused her of being unfaithful. He tried to argue with her and closed the bathroom door. The victim asked him to open the door. He opened it and punched her in the face, and he pinned her to the wall. Later, he let her leave the bathroom. Security was called, and they came and took him out of the room.

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In a recent Massachusetts assault case, the appellate court considered aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. DNA evidence connected the defendant to the case.

In 2010, an arrest warrant was issued for the defendant. He was indicted as a youthful offender. However, he filed a motion to dismiss the indictments for a failure to hold a probable cause hearing. A judge dismissed the case, and the Commonwealth appealed. The appeal was dismissed. However, a delinquency complaint was sought in Juvenile Court. The defendant was arraigned for aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. When probable cause was determined, the case was transferred to the adult court system.

The defendant was indicted for aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. His new attorney was appointed. At the trial, the jury couldn’t come to a decision about aggravated rape, and a mistrial was declared. However, the defendant was acquitted of the charge for armed assault with intent to murder. He was tried again and convicted.

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In a recent Massachusetts assault case, the defendant pled guilty to assault and battery on a girlfriend and her child. A judge sentenced him to 2 1/2 years in the house of correction, but he only had to serve six months with the balance suspended for three years. He was sentenced to three years of probation on the second charge.

He moved to revise and revoke the sentence. He asked if he could serve the sentence on weekends. The sentence was stayed until 2015, and on that date, the judge allowed the motion. The Commonwealth appealed, arguing the judge had made a mistake in granting the defendant’s motion. It argued the defendant didn’t meet the criteria provided under M.G.L. c. 279 section 6A that would allow him to serve a special weekend sentence.

After the appeal was entered, the judge held a hearing on the sheriff department’s petition to modify after the appeal was entered. The sheriff argued that the defendant should not be eligible due to his priors, having been imprisoned on prior convictions. The judge reduced the committed part of the defendant’s sentence to time served.

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