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Massachusetts Man Charged With Rape of a Child Flees During Trial, Jury Returns Verdict in his Absence

According to a report in Boston.com, Ciro Reyes-Palma, a Massachusetts man was in the middle of a Rape of a Child trial in Great Barrington. He was facing eleven counts stemming from allegations that he committed Rape of a girl over a three year period. The Sexual Assault began in 2009 and continued until 2011. Authorities learned that Reyes-Palma fled to Mexico on Saturday. Despite his default the trial continued. The man was convicted in his absence.

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This case brings up the interesting issue of how judges and lawyers handle cases where the accused defaults during trial. Massachusetts Rule of Criminal Procedure 18 states that “[i]f a defendant is present at the beginning of a trial and thereafter absents himself without cause or without leave of court, the trial may proceed to a conclusion in all respects except the imposition of sentence as though the defendant were still present.” That is what occurred here. The right to be present at one’s trial is deemed waived or forfeited where the accused does one of two things. If he voluntarily absents himself from the trial his appearance is deemed waived. Or, if his conduct is disruptive to the proceedings a judge in his discretion may order the defendant secluded. In the latter situation the defendant is usually placed in a separate room where he can view the proceedings alone. If a defendant fails to show up during the trial the judge has to decide whether the trial should continue or whether mistrial should be granted. The judge’s job is to determine whether the defendant’s absence is with or without cause and whether or not it is voluntary. Thus, typically some sort of investigation is undergone and a hearing follows. The record must show what efforts were taken to find the defendant and what evidence has been gathered in relation to his default.

Here, I imagine that is what the judge in fact did and decided that given the defendant’s flight to Mexico the trial should continue. The bigger problem in situations like this the judge can charge the jury on consciousness of guilt. Naturally, if this instruction is given the jury will believe that the defendant’s mid-trial default was due to his belief that things were not going his way and that he was going to be convicted. As a practical consequence, the defendant’s sentence will probably be substantially greater than it would have been had he remained in court for the duration of the case. Similarly, he can be charged with another crime for defaulting in the middle of his trial.


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