Articles Posted in Domestic Violence Crimes

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1006530_broken_glass.jpgThis week the media has done extensive reporting on the trial of 2 men who are accused of murdering 4 people in Mattapan during a drug deal gone wrong. Allegedly at one point during the trial a manwho was observing the trial got up and called one of the witnesses who was testifying a rat and a snitch. The Boston Globe now reports that the man who made these comments has been arrested and charged with the crime of witness intimidation.

In March of 2006 the legislature passed a bill targeted at decreasing gang violence and giving police more tools to arrest and prosecute gang members who terrorize the community with violent crimes. It was this bill that contained the witness intimidation charge that the man will now face. The witness intimidation portion of this bill was meant to target gang members in the community who would threaten and intimidate innocent witnesses into being too afraid to testify. Because those witness would be too afraid to testify prosecutors were unable to bring many ruthless violent gang members to justice for crimes committed in broad daylight in full view of the public. Being such a new law (most MA criminal charges are decades or even centuries older) it has been interesting to see how police and prosecutors have used the charge of witness intimidation since its inception as a tool to fight violent and dangerous gangs.

Witness intimidation is certainly a serious charge. It is a felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in state prison. If prosecutors can prove the man did the things they allege with the intent to intimidate the witness who was testifying, it would certainly be an application of the statute that is very consistent with the original intent of the law. However, the statute itself is so open ended and broad that is frequently used by police and prosecutors to target people who have absolutely no involvement with gang activity, or even any criminal record.

Take a look at the language of the statute. Because there is virtually no limitation placed on what conduct constitutes a threat and what doesn’t this kind of charge is now used regularly against people who are arrested for the first time. Most frequently police will use this charge to elevate a simple misdemeanor domestic violence arrest and turn it into a felony case. Police are now trained that if there is any hint that during a domestic dispute one of the parties tells the other not to call the police, or physically tries to prevent them from calling the police, then witness intimidation should be charged.

In my career I have seen witness intimidation charged well over one hundred times in cases I either handled or was associated with. In the overwhelming majority of those cases the witness intimidation charge was based on some conduct alleged to have occurred in the heat of a domestic dispute. Only rarely is it used to protect witnesses to gang activity who are in fear of retribution for their testimony as the legislature intended.

In addition the statute covers many behaviors, not just threats. One doesn’t have to make a threat at all to be charged under the statue. Simply misleading a police officer is enough to bring someone up on these serious felony charges. In my opinion this gets into dangerous territory. Many witnesses provide information to the police without knowing if it is true or not. They can be charged with witness intimidation at any time by the police if they feel as though incorrect information was provided intentionally. The fact that someone didn’t intend to provide false information is a defense at trial, but the mere charge itself is a major disruption to one’s life and liberty.

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577109_waiting_for_a_baby.jpgI recently came across an artice online at Nashoba Publishing detailing a story of an alleged domestic incident that occurred in Ayer, Massachusetts. An Ayer man is now facing domestic assault and battery charges in Ayer District Court for the incident police say occurred over the weekend.

According to the report the man and his wife were apparently going through a separation. the man was reportedly homeless, but his wife allowed him back into the marital home because of the harsh weather conditions outside.

Early Monday morning the man called the police, and reported he had been attacked by his wife. Police responded and conducted an investigation. After conducting the investigation they made the decision to arrest the man despite the fact that he called the police and initially reported being attacked by his wife.

The man’s wife did not seek medical attention as a result of the incident, but he did go to the hospital to be treated for cuts on his face. While in transport to the hospital police made the arrest..

He is now facing several charges including assault and battery, witness intimidation, kidnapping and destruction of property. The kidnapping charges against him may not stand. If prosecutors wish to proceed on that charge they will have to indict the case and bring him to trial in Superior Court. Because only the Superior Court can hear an allegation of kidnapping, prosecutors may choose to keep the case in Ayer District Court and proceed only on the remaining charges.

Its also possible prosecutors may try to add charges that have jurisdiction in the District Court. If prosecutors have evidence that the man knew his wife was pregnant at the time of the alleged attack they can charge him with aggravated assault and battery, which is a felony.

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