Earlier today I read a blog post written by Orange County criminal lawyer Randy Collins discussing the role of jailhouse informants or snitches in helping prosecutors prove cases. It reminded me of just how difficult defending criminal cases can be when a client is locked up awaiting trial. The use of informants always had and always will have its place in proving crimes. Yet is seems more prevalent these days in Massachusetts, particularly in regard to murder prosecutions. There was a time when the fear of retaliation scared would be informants from helping prosecutors. Newly designed jails and segregated prison populations have contributed to quelling these fears and encouraging informants to cooperate. This post looks at some jailhouse informant issues I have encountered and how to defend against them.
While following the Aaron Hernandez Massachusetts murder case I was struck by the prosecutor’s motion asking Judge Garsh to recuse herself. According to several news sources, Bristol County prosecutor William McCauley claimed that in 2010 Garsh displayed hostility towards him by accusing him of wrongfully excluding evidence. He further complained that this judge undermined his credibility before a jury. McCauley filed a similar motion in 2011 that was never argued. Instead, the case ended up before another judge. Garsh denied McCauley’s motion and will preside over the proceedings and perhaps the trial itself.
While there is nothing novel about asking a judge to recuse himself for cause in Massachusetts it is done sparingly. If the judge decides not to step down from the case the challenging party risks retaliation. Such actions will likely be subtle. Rulings may be less likely to go your way. The judge can use the inflection in his voice to undermine your efforts. Your opponent might be shamelessly embraced in a manner visible to the jury but not captured in the trial transcript. Simply put, if the judge wants to screw you for filing such a motion he can. Now of course retaliation is impermissible yet good luck trying to prove that it happened to you. In this particular case I sincerely doubt that McCauley will suffer consequences for trying to have Garsh remove herself from this case. As a matter of fact, given the media attention this case has been getting and will be getting it will be difficult for Garsh not to bend over backwards to prove that she has no bias towards the prosecution.
On the other hand, I cannot understand why a judge, being accused of bias would not simply step away from a case. Naturally, Judge Garsh’s words “I do not fear or favor the Commonwealth or the defendant” resonate nicely. But why stay on the case? Acceding to a recusal request is not an admission of fear. Nor does stepping away from this case acknowledge agreement that McCauley’s accusations of unfairness are true. There are literally thousands of other cases to sit on. The judge could simply step aside and before doing so rule that she has no bias. She would merely be avoiding any appearance of impropriety and she could then pass the case on to another judge.
Unlike some other states, there is no peremptory challenge of judges in Massachusetts. Alaska Statute 22.20.022 permits a peremptory challenge to a sitting judge if the challenging party files an affidavit alleging that with this judge a fair and impartial trial cannot be obtained. California C.C.P. Sec 170.6 allows for the peremptory challenge of a judge without the need to give the court a factual basis for its belief that the judge is biased. These laws make a lot of sense. They tend to keep reminding judges of the need to be fair and respectful of the litigants. They promote confidence in the judiciary. They eliminate favoritism. If a party is uncomfortable with a perceived relationship between the judge and an opponent he can remove the judge from the proceeding. This is a nice check against judicial ignorance. Judges who are routinely victimized by peremptory challenges might modify their behavior. They might read the advance sheets. They might be nicer to the litigants. They might learn to act appropriately.
A twenty-five year old Woburn, Massachusetts man is being charged in Essex County for a stabbing incident that occurred yesterday morning. According to reports Timothy Wells slashed a Salem State College student on a shuttle bus and then stabbed the bus driver who came to the female victim’s defense. Wells fled the scene and was apprehended in New York earlier today. Wells, a senior at Salem State was found in possession of a knife a few weeks ago however no charges were filed. Wells, a senior at Salem State has been charged with Assault and Battery by Means of a Dangerous Weapon and Attempted Murder. It has been reported that Wells informed campus police about his concerns about his state of mind.
The facts of this case clearly suggest that Wells’ lawyer investigate the viability of a mental health defense. The most commonly used mental health defense in Massachusetts is the defense of lack of criminal responsibility. Lay people often refer to this defense as the insanity defense. If a jury finds that some lacked criminal responsibility at the time of the commission of the crime it cannot convict the person of that crime. It is the burden of the government to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was sane when he committed the offense. To succeed with this defense there must be evidence that the defendant had a mental condition that rendered him unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. It is advisable that anyone employing this defense have an expert evaluate him and be prepared to testify at trial to the condition of the accused and its effect on his or her ability to behave properly.
The defendant is also entitled to have the jury instructed that an acquittal by reasons of insanity does not automatically permit the person to go free. Rather, the jury can, upon request be instructed that its decision to find the defendant not guilty will likely require hospitalization in a secure mental health facility and that he will not be released unless and until a judge finds that he is no longer mentally ill and dangerous. Voluntary intoxication and drug abuse can be factored into this analysis in certain circumstances.
Here, Wells’ condition was known to campus police prior to the incident. It would not surprise me to learn that he had a document mental health condition or that he was prescribed medication for his problems. In that case, the defense is what I call a real one; i.e. not something concocted in the absence of an explanation for Wells’ behavior. Mental health defenses rarely convince juries. They do however often convince prosecutors and judges that the accused should be acquitted and treated for his problems.
According to a report in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune charges of Disorderly Person, Trespassing and Assault and Battery have been filed against a Westford, Massachusetts man. The defendant, Adonis Carrasco was reportedly in a Merrimack College dorm room without an invitation. Sometime after midnight Carrasco allegedly put his arm around one of the women and sat in another woman’s lap. Carrasco also supposedly touched one of the girls’ legs and made some unwanted sexual suggestions towards her. One of the girls told the defendant that she had a knife. He responded that he sometimes carried a knife as well. Other students intervened on behalf of the women and called the police. Carrasco was arrested and now faces Criminal Charges in the Lawrence District Court.
As a criminal defense lawyer I am always cynical when I read articles discussing arrests and pending criminal cases. I recognize that the truth is rarely what is initially read in court or disclosed in the newspapers. It is fairly uncommon for the accused to disclose their defenses at arraignment and this case is no exception to that rule.
So what do I ask when I read an article like this one? Well from one, how did Carrasco get into the dorm? From there how did he get into a room with these women? How long was he there for? Who else “witnessed” what was going on there? Did he go to the college alone or with friends? Once these questions and more like them are answered I get a pretty good sense of what happened. From there I know how to defend the case and often times, particularly in cases like this one if the defendant does not have a criminal record he will continue not to have one if he is properly represented.
Here is something else to think about. All dorms now have secure access meaning that in order to get in you need a code, key or someone to let you in. All dorms also now have video surveillance and security systems so determining how Carrasco got into the dorm can easily be determined. His lawyer simply has to get the judge to order the district attorney to have the footage preserved and produced or get a court order compelling the college to produce the material. I imagine that much will be learned from viewing this recording.
Over the past twenty-six years I have represented thousands of people who have been charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanor Motor Vehicle Crimes, like OUI to major felonies such Murder, Rape and Distribution of Child Pornography. The source of my clients has varied. Family and friends have sent me business. Years ago, just like all other professionals I was listed in the phone book and just by luck someone would call me. For a short period of time I had paid listings in local yellow page books. When I was younger I was on various lists for state agencies that would appoint lawyers paid by the state, counties or the federal government. Lawyers in Massachusetts, particularly those who do not practice criminal defense law might refer a case to me. Lawyers from out of state with whom I had cases either in Massachusetts or their jurisdiction often sent me business. Finally, in 2003 I started marketing through the Internet. Yet no matter what the source of this business potential clients had an abundance of questions and many of these questions were asked by a majority of prospective clients. These people had certain expectations of their lawyers, some realistic, others not so realistic. I realized that the decision to hire me would at least in part stem from my responses to these questions. Rather than hustle the business I simply answered the questions as honestly as I could and let the person then make his or her decision of who to hire. Reflecting on this I think it is valuable to share a few of these questions and what I believe are proper responses so that anyone reading this post can make a more informed decision about what to look for when seeking a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer.
1. If I pay you more money will I be more likely to get a better result?
The answer is absolutely not. Criminal Defense Attorneys in Massachusetts have different fee schedules. Most charge some sort of flat fee that varies depending on the lawyer and the crime. No matter what you are charged you should expect your lawyer to give your case his best effort and maximum attention. Steer clear of any lawyer telling you that paying more will get you a better result.
The proper response is that “my fee is my fee and no matter what I get paid I will give your case my best effort”.
2. Can you guarantee me that you can win my case?
Never. No lawyer can predict what a jury or a judge is going to do in a particular case. Experienced lawyers can tell you what usually happens in certain cases but they cannot predict or guarantee a result. Stay away from any lawyer who guarantees a win.
A proper answer to this question is that no one can make guarantees in this business but in situations similar to yours here is what typically happens.
3. Does knowing the district attorney or judge help?
There is no doubt that relationships in life can have value in certain instances. Any yes, some lawyers can get a better result in front of some judges than others or with some assistant district attorneys than others. But you shouldn’t be deceived by this. The judges in Massachusetts are often rotated from court to court or from session to session within a particular court. The same is true for assistant district attorneys. There is no guarantee that that judge or district attorney will be at all involved in your case. Moreover, ethically, the trend has been for judges to recuse themselves from cases where they feel too attached or “friendly” with one of the lawyers. Assistant district attorneys often need to adhere to certain office policies that prohibit them from treating friends with more favor. Moreover, any lawyer who tells you that he is “friends with the judge” or “friends with the district attorney” should not be trusted. Think about it. What kind of person would risk jeopardizing a relationship for a client? Obviously this is not someone who you can trust.
It is not improper for the lawyer to let you know his or her experience in certain courts or to give you opinions about the judge’s proclivities relative to cases like yours. The same applies for the assistant district attorney.
Massachusetts lawmakers are close on a bill that, if passed as law will treat seventeen year olds as juveniles. The proposal has passed in the Massachusetts House and Senate and now awaits reconciliation through a conference committee. The governor has drafted a similar law and there is optimism that the bill will be on his desk for approval by the end of the month. As of now, seventeen year olds in Massachusetts are treated as adults when it comes to being charged with committing crimes. It doesn’t matter how severe the offense is nor are the circumstances of the crime considered prior to bringing criminal charges. The current law is simply terrible. Massachusetts is one of only eleven states in the country currently treating seventeen year olds as adults. The federal government treats seventeen year olds as juveniles.
The proposed Massachusetts law would not override the youthful offender law. That statute, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119 Section 52 et seq. provides for special treatment for people being prosecuted between the ages of fourteen and seventeen…in certain circumstances. Typically the youthful offender law pertains to crimes committed involving serious bodily harm. Thus, the proposed legislation would have no effect on Massachusetts Violent Crimes or Massachusetts Sex Crimes committed by seventeen year olds.
So as a Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer here is what I see as being wrong with the current law. Seventeen year olds are still kids. They are primarily in high school. They make mistakes. They experiment with alcohol and drugs. They may drink and drive. They will express their curiosity through activities deemed criminal. In addition to being prosecuted by the courts schools have a way of punishing kids for committing these crimes now. They get suspended. They get kicked out of extra-curricular activities or off of their sports teams. Even worse, they get their names and sometimes pictures in the local papers for doing something wrong.
Here is something else. There are over 2900 seventeen year olds prosecuted each year in Massachusetts. These kids might end up criminal records as a result of a single criminal incident. They will have difficulty getting into some colleges. Their applications will be flagged. They will have trouble getting certain jobs. Countless times each year parents of seventeen year olds that I represent express concerns about how certain methods of resolving the case will be viewed by schools or employers. The answer to those questions is not easy. Massachusetts CORI laws permit perspective employers access to criminal histories depending on the nature of the business. For instance, people working with children or in health care are more vulnerable to perspective employer CORI access. And how many seventeen year olds know what they “want to do when they grow up”?
I have more thoughts on the current law. Juvenile detention facilities treat inmates much different from adult facilities. Adult facilities punish and isolate. They do not rehabilitate. They aren’t funded for rehabilitation right now…at least not enough. Juvenile correctional centers educate. They provide counseling services. They offer mental health treatment. They emphasize getting back into society in a productive manner.
There are thousands of articles written each day about the Trayvon Martin case. Most of these pertain to Florida’s self-defense law. The general consensus among criminal defense lawyers is that the evidence supported a self-defense instruction and that the jury’s application of the law was fair. At least this is how I read these articles and blog posts. While many people are criticizing the Florida “stand your ground” law I saw a post from a Rhode Island criminal lawyer suggesting that in that state Mr. Zimmerman likely would have been acquitted. I will not opine on what would have happened in Massachusetts had the case been tried here. However I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss the Massachusetts self-defense law from the perspective of a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer.
Self-defense is permitted is Massachusetts. The defendant does not have to prove that he acted in self-defense. Rather, the district attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did not act in self-defense. The application of this law depends on whether the defendant used deadly force or non-deadly force. Since we are discussing the law in the context of the Trayvon Martin case let’s look at the use of deadly force. For that defense to work the accused must “reasonable and actually believe” that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. He must also do everything he can to avoid combat before he uses such force. Finally, one can only use as much force as is necessary under the circumstances.
So here is what I think the jury may have focused on had this case been tried in Massachusetts. 1) Were Trayvon Martin’s actions enough to permit a person in George Zimmerman’s position to reasonably believe that Zimmerman was in immediate danger of death or great bodily harm? 2) Was George Zimmerman able to escape safely without using deadly force? Could he have walked away? Could he have held Trayvon Martin at bay? Could he have called for help without exposing himself to further danger? 3) Did George Zimmerman use more force than was necessary under the circumstances? Factors to consider here are the size differences between the parties, the location of the event, the presence of weapons and who had what weapon.
Here are some other factors that may come into play in Massachusetts self-defense cases. The victim’s prior acts or crimes of violence may be admissible if there exists a dispute as to who was the first aggressor. There is no need for the defendant to know about the victim’s reputation for violence to avail oneself of this defense. That knowledge, if present however can be used as evidence at trial.
Even though Massachusetts does not characterize its self-defense law as a “stand your ground” law its application in the circumstances of particular cases might not differ much or even at all. From what I know about the Trayvon Martin case George Zimmerman would have secured a self-defense instruction in Massachusetts. The jury’s decision would have been driven by facts identical to those adduced in Florida at the very least. There is no reason to believe that the verdict here would have been different from the verdict in Florida. That being said, each jury is unique. It is impossible to predict a verdict. As I tell my clients, anything can happen at trial.
According to a recent report, Alexander Bradley, one of Aaron Hernandez’s friends has testified before a Bristol County grand jury. Bradley is the “friend” whom Hernandez allegedly shot in the face in Florida this past February. Bradley is also the friend who was driving drunk with Hernandez in the car this past January. There are no criminal charges pending against Hernandez stemming from the Florida shooting.
Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer, Grand Jury Proceedings
This article made me thing about the grand jury process in Massachusetts and how it works. As a Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer I frequently challenge the integrity of the grand jury process hoping to get cases dismissed. Often however I ignore the mechanics of these proceedings, something worthy of discussion. For the most part, people are summonsed at random each month to serve on a grand jury. Out of the total called to court twenty-three people sit for a period of months. The number of months during which they serve varies from county to county. The grand jury does not meet every day. The impaneled jurors are given an oath. They then elect someone to act as the foreperson of the grand jury. The foreperson is empowered to administer oaths to the witnesses who are to testify before the grand jury. In Massachusetts witnesses who appear before a grand jury can have an attorney present with them.
Initially at least the grand jury process is done in secret. The grand jurors hear evidence presented by the district attorney through witnesses. The evidence must satisfy the elements of the crime and establish the identify of the accused. The standard of proof necessary to return an indictment is “probable cause”, the lowest standard of proof in the American legal system for criminal matters. The indictment once returned may be held until the arrest of the defendant. To secure an indictment there must be the agreement of at least twelve of the grand jurors. The grand jury can also “no bill” a case. This means that it has not secured the necessary twelve votes to indict. Anyone held in custody while waiting for a grand jury to hear the case will be released immediately upon the grand jury issuing a “no bill”. The deliberation process is done privately. The district attorney or prosecutor cannot be present while the grand jury votes.
There are ways to challenge indictments. One is to show that the district attorney failed to present enough evidence to show that a crime was committed and that the crime was committed by the defendant. Challenges like this are brought by motion to dismiss or what is known in Massachusetts as a McCarthy motion. Another way to try to get a case dismissed involves a challenge to the integrity of the grand jury process. Here, if the defense can establish that the grand jurors were misled by a lying prosecutor, police officer or other witness a judge might be persuaded to dismiss the case. Cases that are dismissed due to grand jury proceeding inadequacies are often re-indicted. This gives the district attorney another opportunity to charge the defendant with this crime. To avoid this, an experienced criminal lawyer might not move to dismiss prior to trial but leave this issue open to ensure success on appeal if necessary.
The grand jury process in Massachusetts is fertile ground for litigation that might result in success for the accused. This makes your choice of a criminal defense lawyer critical.
Moises Matos of Lawrence, Massachusetts is being held without bail in the Essex County Jail following his arraignment in Newburyport District Court for several Massachusetts Violent Crimes. Authorities allege that this past Sunday Matos and the victim were passengers in a car being driven by Matos forty five year old brother Henry. At some point the defendant, who was seated in the front seat, started to pull the woman’s hair. The woman was seated in the rear of the vehicle. Matos then punched the woman. He got into the back of the car and while it was moving threw her out onto the highway. The woman was treated at the scene and then taken to a Boston hospital by helicopter. She sustained two broken arms, a head injury and damage to her legs. At the hospital the victim provided detailed information to the police enabling them to arrest Matos who they located in Lawrence. Matos’ brother had been charged with OUI and Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle. Moises Matos is facing charges of Assault and Battery by Means of a Dangerous Weapon, Aggravated Assault and Battery and Assault With the Intent to Murder. The case is pending in the Newburyport but will be prosecuted in the Essex County Superior Court.
Aggravated Assault and Battery Defense Attorney in Massachusetts, Lawrence, Newburyport, Essex County
One of the charges that baffles me in the context of this case is the Assault and Battery by Means of a Dangerous Weapon. The article states that the dangerous weapon used in the commission of the crime is the pavement. The crime of Assault and Battery by Means of a Dangerous Weapon is a felony. The applicable law is Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265 Section 15A. There is a ten year maximum sentence associated with a conviction for this offense if the case is charged in the superior court.
Dangerous weapons in Massachusetts are classified into two categories. A “dangerous weapon per se” is something designed to inflict great bodily harm or death. Guns and knives fall into this category. They are designed for assault purposes. Other instrumentalities like razors, tools, pocket-knives are not per se dangerous weapons. However, these items can be viewed as dangerous weapons if used in a dangerous manner. Other examples of non per se dangerous weapons are broomsticks, phone cords, riding crops, walking sticks and cars. I have never heard of pavement in this context being considered a dangerous weapon. We recently succeeded in getting a charge of Assault and Battery by Means of a Dangerous Weapon dismissed where the victim after being struck by the defendant fell into a refrigerator. The refrigerator was deemed the dangerous weapon by the district attorney. The judge threw this out after we convinced him that something that someone falls into during the course of an Assault and Battery cannot be considered a dangerous weapon if not used in that manner. Similarly, I believe that this charge should fail as to Mr. Matos.
Yesterday the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its opinion in the case of Commonwealth v. Chambers. Chambers was tried in the Suffolk Superior Court for the death of Edward Quiles. The district attorney proved that in the winter of 2008 Chambers lived with the victim and another (Ceurvels) in an apartment in Boston. All three were drug users abusing Cocaine and Heroin. Ceurvels witnessed the incident and testified at trial to the following: The night before the killing Chambers and Quiles were injecting Heroin. They fell asleep around 4:00 a.m. the next day. They woke up to Quiles yelling about a missing gram of heroin. They went back to sleep again. Later that afternoon Quiles woke the other two again complaining about some missing heroin. Chamber and Quiles looked around the apartment for the drugs. Ceurvels left for a while. Ten minutes later Ceurvels returned to find Chambers and Quiles in “an all-out brawl”. Ceurvels then saw blood on the floor and heard Quiles yell to Chambers that Chambers had stabbed him. Ceurvels left the apartment and through another notified the police. He never saw a weapon. The police entered the home and found Quiles dead. The medical examiner testified that Quiles died from a stab wound to the neck.
Chambers was arrested. At the police station he stated that Quiles was high on drugs and that he had accused Chambers of stealing his drugs. He stated that Quiles produced the knife, punched him in the head and called one of his friends to come over and kill Chambers. Chambers also said that Quiles had threatened to stab him and would not let him leave the apartment.
Before the trial started the defense requested and obtained evidence of specific acts of violence committed by Quiles. The district attorney tried to exclude this material at trial. The judge agreed to permit Chambers to admit this evidence, specifically that in 2006 Quiles and others Assaulted and Robbed another individual. The collateral evidence is known as “Adjutant evidence”. Relying on this ruling the defense attorney mentioned this in his opening statement. During the trial, the judge changed her mind on the admissibility of the Adjutant evidence. In doing so she ruled that since the identity of the first aggressor was not an issue at trial Adjutant did not apply. The Supreme Judicial Court held this to be error. It concluded that Adjutant applies “where there is a dispute at trial as to who threatened or struck the first blow or as to who initiated the threat or use of deadly force”. The improper restriction on the use of the Adjutant evidence coupled with the judge’s failure to remedy defense counsel’s reference to this in his opening statement warranted a reversal of Chambers’ conviction.