Massachusetts Appeals Court Explains Element of Maliciousness as it Reverses Conviction for Malicious Destruction of Property Over $250
On March 1, 2013 in Commonwealth v. Doyle, 11-P-1779 the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a conviction for Malicious Destruction of Property Over $250. In Doyle the following facts were presented to a jury: On October26, 2010 Boston Police responded to a call in Dorchester where an ATM machine had been broken into. Upon arrival they encountered an individual who pointed to Doyle. Doyle was carrying a large duffel bag. As officers went towards him he fled. Doyle was caught. The duffel bag was searched. Inside the police found tools believed to be used to break into ATM machines. Doyle was charged with Malicious Destruction to Property Over $250, Breaking and Entering and Possession of Burglarious Tools. The jury convicted Doyle on all counts.
As to the Malicious Destruction charge, Doyle claimed that the district attorney lacked sufficient evidence to establish the element of malice and that there was no evidence as to the value of the ATM machine. The issue of the ATM machine's value was not addressed by the Appeals Court. Instead, the court held that the evidence adduced by the prosecution did not satisfy the element of malice.
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266 Section 127 states that anyone who destroys property of another willfully and maliciously is guilty of a crime. If the value of the property destroyed exceeds two hundred fifty dollars the crime is a felony and the potential sentence is ten years in state prison. Malice is ìa state of mind of cruelty, hostility or revenge." In this case the act of damaging the property was done for the purpose of breaking into the ATM machine and nothing more. In other words, damage to the property had to be done in order for the act to be committed. . . at least in the manner Doyle committed the act. The Appeals Court drew its authority from another Massachusetts Appeals Court case, Commonwealth v. Redmond, 53 Mass.App.Ct. 1 (2001). In Redmond, the defendant's goal was to steal computer equipment. To do so, he needed to destroy property (a door, window, alarm system) to get to the property he wanted to steal. This conduct was not deemed malicious, rather it was necessary to achieve his ultimate criminal goal. The incidental or necessary property damage was deemed "the adventitious by-product of a wholly discrete criminal enterprise".
As a Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer I can tell you that anytime there is damage to property incidental to another intended crime, Malicious Destruction to Property is charged. An Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer will see the duplicative unsupported charge and immediately move to have that count dismissed. Keep in mind that any conviction can adversely impact someone's future and eliminating all counts possible in a complaint cannot be overlooked.