Homemade bombs are illegal in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Anybody convicted of control or possession of an explosive device faces the possibility of fines and imprisonment of either up to 2 1/2 years in the house of corrections or between 10-20 years in the state prison. In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Huacon, the defendant was charged with malicious burning of property, malicious explosion, control or possession of an incendiary device, and violating a restraining order. The case arose during the defendant’s and victim’s romantic relationship, which lasted about two years before the events at issue.
The victim lived with her family. The victim invited the defendant into her house, where they got in a fight. The victim’s mother asked the defendant to leave, but he wouldn’t. She went downstairs, and the defendant followed her.
He got a knife and told the family he would kill everyone and burn the house down. About 30 minutes later, three police officers arrived, took the knife, and arrested the defendant. Later, a restraining order was obtained. Nonetheless, the defendant called the victim at work.
When the victim came home that night, she saw no damage on her car, but she did see someone she believed to be the defendant. The next morning, she discovered that the word “SLUT” had been scratched into her car, and the windshield had been cracked.
Nearby was a charred sock on a bottle. The police believed the sock was lit on fire, and the grass extinguished the fire. It constituted a Molotov cocktail. A few months later, the victim’s brother saw the defendant’s car parked outside their home and saw him light a bottle on fire and throw it near the roof of the car. The vehicle was on fire.
The defendant was indicted. At trial, the defendant claimed mistaken identity and was given an alibi by his father and brother. However, he was found guilty. At trial, the judge gave an instruction that included the statements that the jury wasn’t required to be convinced to an absolute certainty and that something was proved beyond a reasonable doubt if it was proved to a degree of certainty that satisfied the jurors’ judgment and conscience. When the defendant appealed, he argued that the additional instructions, including an explanation of what does not constitute a reasonable doubt, lowered or shifted the burden of proof required for the state to make its case.
The appellate court reviewed the jury instructions as a whole. The key issue was whether a reasonable juror could understand the charge in a way that would unconstitutionally dilute the state’s burden so that it did not have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. In general, judges shouldn’t use illustrations that could confuse rather than clarify what “reasonable doubt” means.
The court explained that the judge’s instruction that a juror didn’t need to be convinced to an absolute certainty was not a negative example that required the appellate court to reverse. It further explained that it might be helpful to a jury to know what didn’t measure up to reasonable doubt.
The appellate court agreed with the defendant that the added language, going beyond the model instruction, could have altered its tone. However, it found that the jurors could not have misunderstood their duty to make sure the defendant was convicted only if they had no reasonable doubt. The defendant also claimed a number of other errors, but the appellate court affirmed the verdict.
If you were arrested for a possession of an incendiary or explosive device, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.
More Blog Posts:
U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in Mandatory Minimum Case Alleyne v. U.S., Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
Court of Appeals Ruling Affirms Prior Conviction Record Insufficient to Establish Identity, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 11, 2013