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Massachusetts Court Determines Defendant’s Statement Was Involuntary in Light of Improper Police Assurances

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.

Legal News GavelThe 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.

The police officer called the defendant and told him that if he cooperated, he would be “very highly likely to avoid being charged with a felony.” The defendant then gave a series of statements over the next few days, explaining that the victim punched him first but that he then was the one who caused the victim’s injuries by jumping on the victim’s chest and punching him in the face.

After his statements to police, the defendant was charged with felony assault and convicted. The defendant appealed, arguing that his statement to the officer was not voluntary based on the specific assurance made by the officer. The court agreed, noting that the relevant question was whether the office’s assurances resulted in the defendant’s will being overborne. In making this determination, courts consider the totality of the circumstances.

The court went on to explain that, as a general matter, police are able to tell a suspect that they would be better off if they cooperate. However, specific assurances of being charged with a lesser crime can cross the line into questionable police tactics. The court noted that when confronted with a promise of leniency, a youthful suspect may feel it is the safest alternative to make any statement he believes the police want him to make. The court also mentioned that the defendant had no prior run-ins with the law, making him totally unfamiliar with police investigatory techniques.

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If you have recently been charged with a serious Boston crime, you should reach out to Attorney Patrick J. Murphy to discuss your case. In almost all Boston criminal cases, there is something that can be done to put you in a better position. Whether it is a properly filed and argued motion to suppress, an in-depth investigation, or a skillful cross-examination of adverse witnesses, a dedicated Boston assault defense attorney can help you defend against the charges you are facing. Call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with a dedicated Boston criminal defense attorney today.

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The Use of Confidential Informants in Boston Drug Crime Cases, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published March 20, 2018