Court of Appeals Ruling Affirms Prior Conviction Record Insufficient to Establish Identity

On this blog, we often discuss how due to the serious nature of criminal offenses, the government bears the burden of proving all elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in certain cases, that is not the only burden of proof that the Commonwealth must bear. For example, as one Appeals Court decision affirms, in charging and sentencing based upon prior offenses, the prosecution must also prove that it was the same individual who committed the prior relevant offenses.In the case, Commonwealth v. Cruz, Mass. App. Ct. (2013), the defendant was subjected to a two part trial. In the initial phase of the trial, the jury convicted the defendant of operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor (OUI) and of negligent operation of a motor vehicle. In the second part, the jury convicted the defendant on the subsequent (third) offense portion of the operating under the influence charge. However, the defendant, Michelle Cruz, appealed on the later charge, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to establish that she was the individual who committed the two prior OUI offenses.

According to the opinion, the only evidence introduced by the Commonwealth to establish the defendant’s identity, was a certified copy of Michele MacCord’s 1993 OUI conviction and a certified copy of Michele Fortenbacher’s 2003 OUI conviction. Both of those conviction records reflected a birth date of March 17, 1962.

The Commonwealth then called, as its sole witness, a probation officer who answered questions based upon Michelle Cruz’s probation report. The officer stated that the report listed Michelle Cruz’s date of birth as March 17, 1962. She then stated that the report indicated that Michelle Cruz had also gone by the names of Michele MacCord and Michele Fortenbacher. Lastly, she stated that the probation report showed that Michele MacCord and Michele Fortenbacher were convicted of OUI in 1993 and 2003, respectively.

The Appeals Court first stated that a prior conviction record alone is not sufficient to prove identity, unless somehow linked to the defendant’s identity. The record must contain some other identifying information beyond the defendant’s name alone in order to meet the requirement. The other cases relied on by the Commonwealth, the court affirmed, required identifying information beyond a mere name and date of birth. Some examples it listed included prior addresses and a photograph corresponding to court records.

Therefore, the court vacated the conviction for the subsequent offense portion of the defendant’s charge, remanding the case for a sentencing solely based upon the conviction of the OUI reached during the first part of this trial.

While short, this decision is crucially important in terms of affirming constitutional rights. The Commonwealth only gets one chance to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the attendant circumstances relating to the crimes that they are charging you with. They cannot get a second crack at it, for to do so would implicate the constitutional protection against double jeopardy. This is why it is crucial to hire competent counsel, who will remain on top of all the requirements the state must prove, and will simultaneously be able to provide you with the best possible defense.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts imposes strict laws on drunk drivers. A Massachusetts third offense OUI is a felony offense; in which case it is extremely vital to seek legal counsel when faced with this charge. Only an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney will be educated in the specific laws and matters of OUI. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy by calling 617-367-0450 or through this website today for a free and confidential legal consultation regarding your OUI case.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Requirement that Prosecution Must Prove All Elements Relating to Crimes For Which Jury Will Be Instructed at Trial, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 4, 2013
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Lower Sentence in Case Affected by Change in Mandatory Minimum Sentence Law, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published November 26, 2013

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