For most people, being charged with a crime is an unnerving experience. The first thing someone might do is get on the Internet and research the statute under which he has been charged. This is a really bad idea. You will look at the statute and see a potential jail or state prison sentence. Panic will start to set in. So, you might next use the Internet to find a criminal defense attorney. The website might provide you with similar information. This might not make you feel any better. Keep this analogy in mind. When you don’t feel good you might go to the symptom checker on the Internet. And guess what? You will quickly learn that you have a terminal illness. Yet once you meet with a doctor you find out that you only have a pulled muscle. So while the Internet and criminal lawyer websites might be a good starting place for representation you have to do more to find the right person to represent you. Here are my thoughts on how to find the right criminal defense attorney for your case. Continue reading →
One of the most common criminal charges college students face, particularly in Massachusetts is the crime of shoplifting. The courts in Boston see a significant number of these cases. The last thing a college student can afford is having a criminal record so effective, experienced legal representation is a necessity. Our office has been defending college students for nearly three decades. We have managed to get countless shoplifting cases dismissed and we have made sure that our clients have left the courthouse without having a criminal record. Successfully defending college students charged with shoplifting is something in which we take great pride. Continue reading →
Larceny cases fall into two general categories in Massachusetts. Larceny under two hundred fifty dollars is a misdemeanor. Larceny over two hundred fifty dollars is a felony. The former is punishable by up to one year in the county house of corrections and the latter by up to five years in state prison. The felony version of larceny is often charged in district courts in Massachusetts meaning that the prosecution is not seeking a state prison sentence. When larceny cases involve disputes over money the person accused is often surprised at how the matter can be charged criminally. In this situation people call will me and ask “how can I get a larceny case dismissed?”. This article examines one of these cases. Continue reading →
Forty-nine out of the fifty United States have laws making writing a bad check a crime. The crime is known as larceny by check. The Massachusetts law prohibiting this conduct is G.L. c. 266 Section 37. That statute makes it a crime to write or pass a check knowing that there do not exist sufficient funds to cover the check. Simply passing the instrument satisfies the prosecution’s burden of going forward with these charges unless the accused covers the bad check within two days of being notified that the check has bounced. Fraudulent checks exceeding two hundred fifty dollars can result in a felony complaint issuing. Several times each month I get a call about one of these cases. The client usually asks if he or she can be prosecuted for bouncing a check. The answer is usually “yes, you can be prosecuted or that crime” however the likelihood of being convicted depends on factors discussed below. Continue reading →
An article in today’s Salem News discusses a scheme used by local retail store employees to obtain goods without having to pay for them. Apparently five employees used portable scanning devices issued by the store to ring up sales for fellow employees. Some of the items would be voided out so it would look like the employee was paying for one item when in fact the items voided out would be taken as well. Improper refund credits were applied to gift cards and the defendant’s personal credit cards as well. The gift cards were then used at the store to make purchases. It appears that the defendants were charged with larceny over $250, a felony in Massachusetts. Continue reading →
Over the years I have defended several cases involving the possession of or passing of counterfeit bills or money. Some of these cases were prosecuted in the district court and others in superior court. Interestingly enough, some of the more serious cases were prosecuted in the district court and vice versa. Initially, very few of my clients knew the severity of these charges. Most of them thought it was no big deal until I told them a little bit about the counterfeit money statutes in Massachusetts. Then they panicked. So, just how serious is possession of counterfeit money in Massachusetts? This post examines that question.
You always hear about people going to New York City to buy pocketbooks, glasses, handbags, shoes and more from street vendors. They talk tongue and cheek about the great deals they are getting. These people know they are not getting the real thing. They go for the experience of “shopping” in New York and having some fun for a couple of days. But did you know you can do the same thing in Lawrence, Massachusetts? Well, just a couple of weeks ago forty two people were arrested in Lawrence and charged with selling counterfeit goods. All of them were arraigned and now await a pretrial hearing in June and July.
About six months ago the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law raising the age for adult prosecutions from seventeen to eighteen. The law had prospective application. There is however one school of thought that this law applies to cases that were pending at the time the law went into effect. Thus, a seventeen year old charged in adult court whose case was pending when the law passed could possibly have his case dismissed upon request. This is exactly what happened earlier this week when a Lowell criminal defense lawyer asked the judge to dismiss a breaking and entering case against her client. The crime was committed in July 2013. At that time the defendant was seventeen years old. He is now eighteen. The law became effective on September 18, 2013.
While reading posts on my Google+ account today I noticed defendants in various parts of the country facing stiff sentences for computer related crimes. Take for instance the case of Jared James Abrahams, a nineteen year old California man and college student who recently pleaded guilty to a computer based extortion scheme. Abrahams was accused of taking over webcams by infecting computers with malware, then capturing the victims disrobing and extorting them for more photos under the threat of publishing the photos. It was also alleged that Abrahams demanded victims get onto Skype and do as he requested, again under the threat of exposing the illicitly accessed images. Abrahams is looking at thirty-three months in federal prison for the commission of these crimes. Victims identified on Abrahams computer equipment, one of whom was a minor, were from all over the world.
In another case, known computer hacker Jeremy Hammond could end up with a ten year sentence for hacking into computers and stealing tens of thousands of credit card numbers. The financial losses calculated by the government directly attributable to Hammond’s actions could be reach two and one half million dollars. Hammond’s lawyers claim that his efforts were part of his social activism, not for personal gain and not initiated maliciously. Rather, it was part of a nonviolent protest that should be punished as such. The government is seeking a sentence of ten years for Hammond, significantly more than the twenty months being requested by his legal team.
So what does this tell you about the state of computer crimes right now? Well obviously they are being taken very seriously by prosecutors. Both of these unrelated cases are being prosecuted by the federal government. The sentences being requested are staggering regardless of the motive or sensitivities of the defendants. Abrahams suffers from a documented case of autism for which he has been treated for over ten years. Hammond is motivated by social forces and has not profited from his actions. Nevertheless, prosecutors want blood. They want lengthy sentences. This trend is consistent not only in federal courts but in state courts including Massachusetts. The message district attorneys want to send is clear; virtual trespassing, no matter what the motive will not be tolerated and deserves sever punishment.
So how are these cases defended? Usually by challenging the validity of the search warrant the permits the police access to your electronic/computer equipment. Fight to show an absence of probable cause and improper issuance of the search warrant. Additionally, you might be able to defend these cases by showing that the government has failed to establish that you are in fact the person who committed the acts, regardless of what is on the computer.
A couple of days ago the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued its decision in Commonwealth v DeGennaro, a case involving theft, real estate fraud and embezzlement. As a factual backdrop the Court found the following:
In one instance, over a six week period the defendants received over forty eight thousand dollars in two installments from the victim. This money constituted the deposit for the construction of a new home. The defendants represented to the victims that the money would be kept in an interest bearing escrow account. Instead, the defendants deposited the money into their commercial checking accounts. They wrote checks from the account and depleted the money. None of the expenditures pertained to the victim’s home construction. The construction never took place. The money was never returned. No home was built.
In another transaction the victim tendered checks in an amount more than fifty-five thousand dollars. Again, the victim understood that the defendants would use the money as a down payment for the construction of a house. In less than two months that account too was depleted. As with the first case, construction delays were negotiated and yet again no construction took place. The deposits were never returned to the victim.
In another matter, DeGennaro hired a subcontractor to install plumbing and heating for homes that he had built. The first check tendered to this victim by the defendants bounced. A subsequent check cleared. The victim continued to perform services but was never paid. This pattern repeated itself relative to another property where this victim was providing the same services for the defendants.
It is no surprise to me that the defendants in these cases were convicted. What does surprise me is that these cases were prosecuted criminally in the first place. These cases almost never get presented to law enforcement. The reason for that is simple. If the victim is correct and he was actually defrauded by the contractor the sum of money taken from him will motivate the district attorney to look for jail time after a conviction. There are not many defenses to cases with these fact patterns. Money was moved from one shell LLC to another. The funds were depleted not for construction purposes but for the enrichment of the defendants. No work was performed. This was nothing more than a scam that was repeated several times with several customers. Yet victims in these cases who consult lawyers will realize very quickly that if they go to law enforcement with their complaints a prosecution will ensue, there will likely be a felony conviction involving jail time and restitution will never be made. The victim will never get back his deposit. So what happens? Usually the builder will continue with his scheme, paying off one victim with funds stolen from another. If he gets lucky, in a good real estate market he might get a windfall with a construction project or housing development and be able to pay everybody back. Rarely do the builders come to the end of their rope as happened with DeGennaro. In his decision, Justice Sikora put it best when he wrote “This appeal requires interpretation of a seldom litigated criminal statute”. It is seldom litigated because the victims know that they will never get paid if the defendant gets prosecuted.