According to an article in the MetroWest Daily News, a judge recently excluded certain evidence that the Commonwealth sought to introduce against a twenty-six year old man accused of raping a twelve year old in Northborough.
The man reportedly met the alleged victim on MySpace. The two met on at least one occasion, during which the alleged victim claims they had sex. The alleged victim told her parents about the interaction, and her parents reported the contact to the police. The police then took over and initiated a sting operation in which they communicated with the man over text message, pretending to be the alleged victim. The police saved each of the text messages, but did not bother to save the alleged victim’s side of the communications. The article specifically indicates that the police deleted thirty or more text messages that the police reportedly sent to the man, posing as the alleged victim.
The case went to trial last week. Prior to the trial, the defense and prosecution argued preliminary motions as to the admissibility of various pieces of evidence, including testimony relating to the text messages, and the text messages themselves. The defense attorney sought to exclude all evidence relating to the text messages on the ground that the police and the Commonwealth acted negligently by failing to preserve the other side of the conversation: the text messages sent by the police. The judge presiding over the case – Judge Daniel Wrenn – specifically found that the police had failed to save copies of the messages they sent to the man, and that the messages were then permanently deleted by the police. The judge further went on to rule that the Northborough police either knew, or should have known, the messages would be relevant – particularly after detectives “took the time and had the foresight” to preserve the messages they received from the man. The judge then allowed only a very limited amount of evidence about the text messages to be admitted.
After successfully excluding the majority of evidence relating to the text messages, the defense attorney attacked the credibility of the alleged victim during the trial. She also focused on the fact that there was no physical evidence that supported the alleged victim’s allegations (swabs of the alleged victim’s genitals and mouth were tested at the Massachusetts State Police crime laboratory and showed no signs of a sexual assault). Following two days of testimony, the jury returned with a split verdict, acquitting the defendant of rape, but convicting him of two lesser offenses (child enticement and indecent assault and battery on a child under fourteen).
What evidence is deemed to be admissible at trial can make or break a defendant’s case. While there are many different grounds that a defense attorney can use to ask that certain evidence be excluded, the exclusion of evidence as a sanction against the Commonwealth is one that is more rarely granted. Here, however, the defense attorney properly raised and persuasively argued the issue and was able to successfully exclude evidence that could have been quite damaging. Although the man was convicted of two offenses, the potential penalties that he faced in relation to the rape charges were significantly more serious. One cannot help but assume that the defense was strengthened by the exclusion of the text messages.
If you or a loved is charged with a criminal case that has similarly important evidentiary issues, you will need a smart, hardworking defense attorney to identify the best arguments to keep the evidence out of the jury’s view, and persuade a judge to agree. Attorney Daniel Cappetta worked as an assistant district attorney for the Commonwealth before becoming a defense attorney. Having extensive experience on both sides of the courtroom allows him to both anticipate the Commonwealth’s arguments, while being able to identify and raise the best arguments for the defense. Call him for a consultation today.