In a recent case coming out of a Massachusetts court, defendants appealed their convictions of armed home invasion, armed and masked robbery, as well as unlawfully carrying a firearm. On appeal, the defendants made several arguments, one of which was that the judge failed to provide crucial instructions to the jury during trial. Because of this error, the court vacated one of the defendant’s judgments of conviction of home invasion. The rest of the convictions were affirmed.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendants were charged after a home invasion in January 2014. Two men wearing facemasks entered the victim’s home around 9:00pm, carrying a handgun, a crowbar, zip ties, and duct tape. They dragged the victim to a safe and forced him to open it, proceeding to take $50,000 in cash and jewelry.
The men fled from the scene and got into a vehicle. A third person, one of the defendants in this case, drove the car away immediately. Through investigations into the men, officers found evidence such as jewelry, coins, and large amounts of cash in each of their possessions. The officers also found a handgun in one of the defendant’s basements. The defendants were tried together and were found guilty of armed home invasion as well as three counts each of armed and masked robbery.
On appeal, the defendant who had driven the getaway card argued that the trial court judge made a mistake by failing to instruct the jury as to a crucial element of the crime for which he was convicted. For a charge of armed robbery while masked, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew that the individuals committing the robbery would be both armed and masked. That is, if the defendant did not know that there were going to be weapons and masks involved, that defendant cannot be found guilty of armed robbery while masked.
The trial court judge failed to inform the jury that this knowledge requirement was an element of the crime. Here, said the court, there was not overwhelming evidence to support the contention that the defendant knew of the weapons and masks involved in the crime. There was no direct evidence of the defendant’s knowledge – the jurors had assumed that because the defendant had driven the car, he knew that the two escaping individuals had both weapons and masks at the time of the robbery. The prosecution had not met their burden of sufficiently proving this specific element of the crime and, thus, the conviction must be overturned.
The defendant’s conviction for armed robbery while masked was vacated accordingly.
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