Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Finds Defendant Did Not Violate Special Condition of Probation

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal regarding a violation of probation case. According to the court’s opinion, in 2015, the defendant pleaded guilty to battery on a child under fourteen, indecent assault, and child pornography possession. A judge sentenced the defendant to five years of probation. Under the terms of the probation, the defendant was registered as a level three sex offender under the Sexual Offender Registry Board (SORB), his location was to be monitored by GPS, he was prohibited from having contact with the victim, and he was prohibited from “working, volunteering, or residing” with children under 16 years old.

Evidently, the defendant was a self-employed home-improvement contractor, specializing in repairs of old homes. For more than thirty years, the defendant operated his business out of his home workshop. Per SORB requirements, the defendant filled out and submitted identifying information in 2015 and 2017, indicating that he was self-employed and listing his home address as his employment address. The defendant had the same probation officer for three years, and at no point did anyone advise the defendant to list all of his clients’ addresses as his “employer address.”

During this time, the defendant performed window restoration work at a client’s home. He removed the windows and did the majority of the work at his home workshop. At the time of the incident, the family did not have any children. Shortly after this job was complete, the family had a baby and hired the defendant to perform other home repairs. Over several months, the defendant performed work for the family; but he did not have any contact with the baby. On one occasion, a police officer stopped the man in a shopping plaza when he was on his way from the client’s home. The officer contacted his probation officer to determine whether the defendant registered his work address in the county of the client’s home—which he did not. The defendant was subsequently charged with a probation violation.

On appeal, the defendant argued that his “work address” was his home address for sex offender registration purposes, and that he did not “work with” children when he was performing exterior repair work for the family. The appellate court found that the statutory language regarding “work address” is ambiguous and unduly burdensome. They reasoned that under the law, ambiguous statutes must be interpreted “using sound reason and common sense.” In this case, the court found that the most reasonable interpretation of “work address” is the defendant’s employment address, not each client’s particular worksite. The court found that the Commonwealth’s assertion that the defendant should fill out each client’s address was impractical and unreasonable.

Further, the defendant’s probation barred him from “working with children,” such as teaching at a school or daycare, or being a camp counselor. The defendant’s work duties, performing repair work, did not involve children. Instead, the job took place in a location where a child happened to be present. The probation judge did not impose a particular condition of “no contact” with children, only a condition involving the victim. Therefore, the defendant did not violate his probation by working outside the home while a supervised infant was present in the house.

Have You Been Charged with a Violation of Probation in Massachusetts?

If you have recently been charged with a serious crime or violation of probation, you should contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy. Attorney Murphy is an experienced and dedicated Boston criminal defense attorney. He has decades of experience successfully representing clients who face various types of serious allegations. Attorney Murphy maintains a firm grasp of the ever-changing principles affecting criminal defendants and uses his knowledge of constitutional principles to represent his clients effectively. He handles all types of criminal cases, including Boston drug crimes, weapons charges, allegations of domestic violence, and more. Contact 617-367-0450 to obtain a free consultation with the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy.

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