Archive for the ‘Mass Criminal Law’ category

The Insanity Defense

November 29, 2013

The Insanity Defense in criminal law has always been a controversial topic to defendants, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and the public.  Attorney William F. Sullivan at Sullivan and Sweeney has recently been involved in two high profile murder cases where the “insanity defense” was utilized, He has a unique perspective as to the how this defense is used and its problems and the possible improvements that can be made.

In Commonwealth v. Fujita and Commonwealth v. Lucas Walters, issues of serious mental health issues were raised before the cases even went before a jury in these Massachusetts murder cases.

Juries have traditionally been reluctant to acquit a defendant on the basis of an Insanity Defense and the Fujita and Walters cases showed the inherent difficulties in presenting this type of defense even where, there is strong valid evidence of mental illness. Under the law, a defendant is (supposed) to be acquitted if the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant was not criminally responsible at the time of the crime. A defendant is not criminally responsible if because of a major mental illness the defendant did not appreciate what he was doing was wrong or that because of the mental illness he could not control his actions. This is fine in theory but in reality juries have traditionally had difficulty following this instruction.

Why and what is needed for a successful Insanity Defense?

In order to be successful in presenting an Insanity Defense, there are almost always certain factors that must be presented to a jury or judge;

1. There should be some pre existing history of mental illness. This can be found either in previous treatment or diagnosis or by documented previous actions consistent with the illness. This can be dealt with if not present, but counsel should look long and hard for any such prior evidence.

2. An effective and qualified expert who can effectively explain the mental illness and how the illness affected the defendant is vital. The expert must be able to apply his/her medical opinions to the above stated legal standard. This expert also must be able to withstand the cross examination of the prosecutor and the cynicism of the jury. The expert must be part teacher and part doctor.

3. A strong cross examination of the prosecution’s expert is an absolute necessity. The defense expert can help prepare counsel for cross examining the prosecution’s witness. In addition, counsel must be up to date with his/her knowledge of the applicable research regarding the medical literature and research upon which the witness bases their opinion.

It is also helpful to seek counsel comfortable worth this type of case. There are always complicated discovery issues relating to prior medical records, court ordered psychiatric exams and other issues unique to this type of case. Many experienced defense attorneys have never handled an Insanity Defense and may be reluctant or intimidated by the unique character of these type cases. If you need an experienced attorney in these matters contact Attorney William F. Sullivan at Sullivan and Sweeney 617-328-6900 to discuss the insanity defense.

In later blogs, I will discuss the various suggestions being put forward in legal circles to make this long standing and long accepted defense more fairly applied such as in the Fujita and Walters cases mentioned above. 

 

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Sealing a criminal record in Massachusetts

November 22, 2013

Sealing Your Criminal Record

            Sweeney and Associates often receives calls regarding whether a person can seal their criminal record. The first thing we advise our clients is to obtain a certified copy of the docket sheet from the court regarding your case and the second is to hire an experienced attorney to represent you in the process. The docket sheet from your case is important because it states the disposition of your case. Depending on how your case was resolved, there are different laws that apply to whether and when you can apply to have your record sealed.  Attorney Sabrina Bonanno has extensive expertise in sealing criminal records in Massachusetts and can assist you in ensuring it is done correctly.  Call her at 617-328-6900.

On May 4, 2012, changes to the sealing laws in Massachusetts became effective. This means that individuals previously ineligible to have their records sealed due to time limitations or the type of disposition in their case, i.e. continued without a finding, pretrial probation, dismissal, or plea or conviction of guilty, may now be eligible to request that either the court or the Commissioner of Probation seal their record.

Section 131 of c. 256 amended G.L. c. 276, § 100C to allow judges to seal cases that were continued without a finding upon dismissal of the case. Dismissal of the case occurs upon an individual’s completion of their probationary term. If your case was continued without a finding, if you were found not guilty, if the District Attorney’s Office entered a nolle prosequi, or your case was dismissed, then on the day or any day thereafter you can request that your record be sealed by filing the appropriate documents. In these instances, an experienced attorney from our office would file a Motion to Seal with the court along with an Affidavit explaining why your record needs to be sealed.  It is important to note, that in order to seal your record, we have to show that you would suffer a specific harm if the record is not sealed. The benefit of hiring Sweeney & Associates is that we have successfully sealed client’s records and are very familiar with not only the process of preparing and filing the appropriate documents but also of what information we need to provide to the court so that the court will allow your record to be sealed.

The process for sealing your record begins with filing the motion and affidavit. Once this is done, there will be a preliminary hearing where a judge will determine whether we have established a prima facie case to seal your record. While you can waive your presence at this hearing, we always recommend that we attend the hearing to answer any questions the judge may have and to make sure the judge puts a face with the name on the paperwork.

Once we establish a prima face case, then there will be a formal hearing. The formal hearing takes place at least 7 days after we have given public notice that you are requesting your record be sealed. Also, the Commonwealth, probation department, any other interested party (for ex. a victim in the case), is allowed to argue for or against you being allowed to seal your record. If the judge finds in our favor, then your record will be sealed.

The sealing laws have also changed for those who plead guilty or were convicted of a misdemeanor or felony. Sections 128 and 129 of c. 256 made several amendments to G.L. c. 276, § 100A. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, you can request your record be sealed after 5 years. Previously you had to wait 10 years. If you plead guilty or were convicted of a felony, you can request your record be sealed after 10 years. Previously you had to wait 15 years. The calculation begins to run when you are released from incarceration or if you were not incarcerated then upon the disposition of your case. Generally, however, if the conviction was for a sex offense, you still have to wait 15 years to request your record be sealed. Based on your classification, you may be ineligible to request your record be sealed. Under this law, we submit an application directly to the Commissioner of Probation to seal your record instead of going before a judge.

If you are interested in sealing your record or want to find out if you are eligible to seal your record call Sweeney and Associates at 617-328-6900 today and speak with a highly reputable and experienced attorney or email us at rsweeney@rsweeneylaw.com .

Child Pornography Laws

November 15, 2013

Child Pornography Laws

           Sweeney and Associates has handled high profile child pornography cases which have received not only national but international media coverage in the cases of Robert Diduca and Geoffrey Portway. We have also handled numerous cases in State and District Courts in this area.  When you are faced with charges involving child pornography the laws are harsh and it is extremely important that you hire an experienced attorney familiar with both Massachusetts Child Pornography Law and Federal Child Pornography Law. At Sweeney and Associates we have handled Child Pornography and Sexual Assault cases both in state courts and federal courts and are very knowledgeable in this area.

Depending on the charges, Possession of Child Pornography, Production of Child pornography or Distribution of Child Pornography, as well as the type and amount of material you possess, you may be charged in a District or Superior Court in Massachusetts or your case could be taken over and brought directly into Federal Court. Some cases may start out in District Court but then the Federal Government will take over the case and charges will be brought in Federal Court due to the type of images you possess, the amount, whether you have been distributing these images by trading online or engaging in Peer to Peer Networks. Do to the level of investigatory resources the Federal government has allocated to investigate these crimes your case may well begin and remain in Federal Court. Peer to peer networks and chat rooms are self monitoring and reporting potential violations to the police and the police and federal agencies have agents who also monitor these sites and track IP addresses right back to your computer.  They then come with a search warrant and seek to question you and most clients end up hurting their case fatally by giving a statement to the police during these searches instead of invoking their 5th Amendment privilege to remain silent and not answer any questions.  Because of this, it is important to hire an attorney experienced with handling these types of charges in any court.

With any case involving child pornography, our primary goal is always to fight the charges against you and force the government to prove not only that it was your computer but that it was actually you using the computer to download or distribute images or videos. Note that in one case that we were involved with the police raided the wrong home, arrested and charged the occupant with Child Pornography charges and it took months before he was cleared when it was proven that a neighbor was using his wireless router to access the internet.

At Sweeney and Associates we are very proactive in fighting these charges.  We begin by filing motions to obtain all the discovery information available including copies of the hard drive(s) of your computer because discovery is a key component in Child pornography cases.  Generally, the charges are based on the Commonwealth or Government tracking your chat room conversations, Peer to peer networking exchanges, IP address, and/or your email address where photographs or videos were sent or received. Being knowledgeable in the field of technology and having a computer expert on hand allows us, in some cases, to discredit the reliability of the tracking technology and provides the defense that it was another individual responsible for the possession or distribution of child pornography.

After we obtain and review all the discovery, cases generally follow one of two paths. In some cases, we can proceed with filing a motion to suppress certain evidence or the search warrant. We can also file motions to dismiss based on our review of the discovery including if the images do not meet the statutory definition of child pornography (see below) or if the person depicted appears to be of age. In other cases, due to the evidence in their possession, including any statements you may have made to the investigators, we must try to reach an agreement with the prosecutor known as a plea agreement.

While our main goal is always to keep you from being convicted, we are also very well aware of the stigma associated with these kinds of charges and the collateral consequences including having to register as a sex offender if you are convicted at trial. If negotiating a plea is in your best interest and you agree, then we will discuss your case with the prosecutor. We have been successful in reducing or amending certain charges so that a person receives only probation and/or does not have to register as a sex offender.  (NOTE this is not a promise that this will happen in your case as each case is different and attorneys cannot promise any outcome in any particular case.  Past achievements are not promises of future achievements.)

Below is a chart depicting the most common charges a person will face in both state or federal court and the punishment for each charge. Please note this is not an exhaustive list and for those offenses that increase incarceration time based on prior convictions, there are only certain convictions that qualify for the increase in incarceration time.

STATE STATUTES AND PUNISHMENTS

G.L. c. 272 29A Production of Child Pornography State prison not less than 10 years nor more than 20 yearsOR$10,000- $50,000 fineORBoth incarceration and fine
G.L. c. 272 29B Distribution of Child Pornography(depiction of a person under 18 in a state of nudity or engaged in a sexual act) State prison not less than 10 years nor more than 20 yearsOR$10,000- $50,000fineOR3x the economic gain from distributing the imagesOR

Both incarceration and fine

G.L. c. 272 29C Possession of Child Pornography State prison not more than 5 years ORHouse of Correction not more than 2.5 yearsOR
$1,000-$10,000 fineOR
Both incarceration and afineMust register as a sex offenderCase Cannot Be Continued Without A Finding

FEDERAL STATUTES AND PUNISHMENTS

 

18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) Sexual Exploitation of a Child Not less than 15 years nor more than 30 years for first convictionNot less than 25 nor more than 50 years if second convictionNot less than 35 years nor more than life if third or subsequent convictionANDFine imposed
18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2) Distribution of Child Pornography Not less than 5 years nor more than 20 years for first convictionNot less than 15 years nor more than 40 years if prior convictionANDFine imposed
18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B) Possession of Child Pornography Not more than 10yearsORFine imposedORBoth incarceration and a fineNot more than 20 years if the child is under 12

AND

Fine imposed

Not less than 10 years nor more than 20 years if second or subsequent conviction

AND

Fine imposed

Most states mirror the Federal Laws on Child Pornography found in 18 USC § 2256:

For the purposes of this chapter, the term—

(1) “minor” means any person under the age of eighteen years;

(2)

(A) Except as provided in subparagraph (B), “sexually explicit conduct” means actual or simulated—

(i) sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex;

(ii) bestiality;

(iii) masturbation;

(iv) sadistic or masochistic abuse; or

(v) lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person;

(B) For purposes of subsection 8(B)  [1] of this section, “sexually explicit conduct” means—

(i) graphic sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, or lascivious simulated sexual intercourse where the genitals, breast, or pubic area of any person is exhibited;

(ii) graphic or lascivious simulated;

(I) bestiality;

(II) masturbation; or

(III) sadistic or masochistic abuse; or

(iii) graphic or simulated lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person;

(3) “producing” means producing, directing, manufacturing, issuing, publishing, or advertising;

(4) “organization” means a person other than an individual;

(5) “visual depiction” includes undeveloped film and videotape, data stored on computer disk or by electronic means which is capable of conversion into a visual image, and data which is capable of conversion into a visual image that has been transmitted by any means, whether or not stored in a permanent format;

(6) “computer” has the meaning given that term in section 1030 of this title;

(7) “custody or control” includes temporary supervision over or responsibility for a minor whether legally or illegally obtained;

(8) “child pornography” means any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where—

(A) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;

(B) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or

(C) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

(9) “identifiable minor”—

(A) means a person—

(i)

(I) who was a minor at the time the visual depiction was created, adapted, or modified; or

(II) whose image as a minor was used in creating, adapting, or modifying the visual depiction; and

(ii) who is recognizable as an actual person by the person’s face, likeness, or other distinguishing characteristic, such as a unique birthmark or other recognizable feature; and

(B) shall not be construed to require proof of the actual identity of the identifiable minor.

(10) “graphic”, when used with respect to a depiction of sexually explicit conduct, means that a viewer can observe any part of the genitals or pubic area of any depicted person or animal during any part of the time that the sexually explicit conduct is being depicted; and

(11) the term “indistinguishable” used with respect to a depiction, means virtually indistinguishable, in that the depiction is such that an ordinary person viewing the depiction would conclude that the depiction is of an actual minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. This definition does not apply to depictions that are drawings, cartoons, sculptures, or paintings depicting minors or adults.

Even though the federal statutes state the length of incarceration, it is important to note that an individual’s sentence in Federal Court is governed by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines which contain “enhancements” based on the nature and number of images, whether a computer was used, the age of the child and other such issues that arise in almost every case.  Federal Judges are not generally pleased with these enhancements and have deviated from them to reduce the defendant’s jail time.  You want an attorney that is aware of these and will negotiate on your behalf to reduce the penalty. While judge’s have discretion to deviate from the Guidelines by either increasing or decreasing an individual’s sentence, most often the judge will sentence an individual based on the Guidelines calculation. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines determine a person’s sentence by starting at a base level for the specific charge and then the sentence is either increased or decreased based on a variety of factors. A person’s criminal history is also taken into account in determining one’s sentence. A person’s sentence is also reduced if they take responsibility for their crime by pleading guilty. Attorneys at Sweeney and Associates are knowledgeable in how to calculate a sentence under the Guidelines which is invaluable in determining whether or not your best option is to proceed with a trial or accept a plea agreement.

Attorney Richard Sweeney is experienced and knowledgeable in every aspect of child pornography charges.  It is vital to your future and liberty that you hire reputable and experienced attorneys to handle your case. If you are facing these charges, contact Sweeney and Associates at 617-328-6900 or email us at RSweeney@RSweeneylaw.com  today and let us help you navigate the system and obtain the best result possible.  This type of charge affects you and your whole family and we are experienced and can provide you and your family with the resources and help necessary to deal with these charges.

Possession of a Fake ID – Loss Of License in Massachusetts

January 23, 2013

Every year students will find a way to get their hands on a fake ID that they can use to buy alcohol or gain access to the local nightclub or bar.  Every year the police ramp themselves up in college towns across America to find these students and charge them with Being a Minor Purchasing Alcohol and will confiscate these IDs when they make the arrest.   Others will find themselves in bars when the police enter to check IDs.  Then the problems begin. 

The wise student has in his or her possession a fake ID which actually belongs to someone else and has another picture and someone elses information on it.  They will explain to the police that they do have an id (show the correct ID to the police believe me) and they also have “found” or are in possession of someone else’s ID because they intend on returning it or some version thereof.  In my previous life as a Boston Police Officer I can assure you I have heard every variation and I can equally assure you that the local police have also.

However there are now places where those that are under 21 will go and get their own picture on an out of state license with their own information but a, somehow, mistaken birthdate that makes them 21 years of age.  These licenses, or fake IDs, will serve their purpose until such time as the police take a look at it and then you will face charges but with less of a defense in court that you were “holding it for someone else who lost it”.  

The punishment in Massachusetts is a $300 fine which most students mistakenly pay and walk out of court without mom and dad knowing anything.  The problem is that you now have a criminal record and the court will then notify the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles which will promptly send notice to your home that your Massachusetts Driver’s License is being suspended for 18o days!  Now that’s a problem to most students and others under 21 (and their parents).

Here’s the advice:

1.  Don’t have a fake ID.

2.  Assuming no one listened to #1 above then, if and when, you are arrested or summonsed to court be SMART and have an attorney with you THE FIRST TRIP TO THE COURTHOUSE to try to stop the process at the initial hearing with a fine, community service and an alcohol program (mandated by courts sorry) and head the problem off before they send notice to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.   Be aware that some police departments have policies that mandate that the officer transmit the information to the Registry when they arrest you. 

3.  If you have already been notified that your license is to be suspended then contact an attorney to appeal the ruling as you ARE ELIGIBLE TO GET A “CINDERELLA LICENSE” that will allow you to drive for twelve hours a day. 

Contact us at 617-328-6900 and we can assist you to try and prevent a criminal record and the ensuing loss of license.  We can also assist you at the Registry Hearing where the Board will decide whether you meet the requirements for a twelve hour license.  You are NOT entitled to a twelve hour license and that is where an experienced attorney can help make sure you get one granted to you.   For more information check out our website at www.rsweeneylaw.com .  Also feel free to email me at rsweeney@rsweeneylaw.com

Having the fake ID was your first mistake, using it was your second, not getting an experienced attorney involved as soon as possible will be your third.  Let us, or the attorney of your choice, help you.

What Happens If You Get Arrested in Massachusetts

January 17, 2013

I was just arrested now what?

First, invoke your right to remain silent.  Shut up.  Do not give any confessions.  Do not give any statements.  Do not sign anything that even remotely smells like a statement or admission.  You have a constitutional right not to make a statement to the police.

Second, demand to speak to your lawyer, immediately.  You have a constitutional right to speak to your lawyer before questioning by the police, but only if you request one.  Once you have demanded to speak to your attorney do not speak to the police until your lawyer speaks to you.  The police DO NOT have to get a lawyer for you but they do have to stop questioning you.

Third, do not talk to your cell mates regarding your case.  They may inform on you to get leniency in their cases.  You may have to talk to them but you do not have to discuss the specifics of your case.

Fourth, if you are arrested for Driving While Intoxicated you should refuse to give a breath sample if you have had anything at all to drink.  You should refuse to participate in any field sobriety test.  If you have been drinking you should refuse to admit anything at all.  If you have “an odor of alcohol on your breath” you will most likely be arrested anyway as almost every police officer will not gamble his future on letting you go with the possibility that you may end up in an accident or cause an accident.  Any admission is likely to result in your arrest anyway.  Giving a breath test that shows a blood alcohol over .08 is going to be admissible as evidence and may be the basis for a conviction alone. Failing a field sobriety test is admissible and may result in conviction.  You have the right to remain silent and to refuse to give evidence about yourself so USE THAT RIGHT!

Fifth, even if you cannot afford to hire an attorney you can have one appointed for you.  When you do this you will be getting the next lawyer in line that day.  Most of these attorneys are excellent but you need an expert in drunk driving so you should plead “not guilty,” tell the judge you will hire your own attorney, and ask for copies of all of your reports from the court so that you may give them to the attorney of your choice.  If you cannot afford an attorney, the court has documents for you to fill out to see if you are eligible for a court appointed attorney.  Ask for these when you report to probation the very first day in court.

If you have been arrested and would like more information or assistance, feel free to contact us at (617) 328 -6900 or visit our website at www.rsweeneylaw.com.

MASSACHUSETTS HARDSHIP LICENSE

January 14, 2013

FIRST OFFENSE OUI HARDSHIP LICENSE APPLICATIONS TO THE REGISTRY OF MOTOR VEHICLES

The following is information regarding the availability of hardship licenses for people whose OUI cases have been disposed of in court pursuant to MGLc.90,s.24D.  Please be advised that this information is being provided solely for the purpose of allowing a defendant to better prepare for their hardship hearing before appearing at a Registry, and that the Registry may require other documents or information before rendering a decision.  At a minimum, please be aware of the following:

 Hardship licenses are available on any case where a defendant has been properly granted a disposition under MGL c.90, s24D.  The Registrar will not entertain requests in cases where the records of the agency reflect that such a disposition was not available to the defendant.

  1. In order to allow for the courts and the Registry to exchange information regarding these dispositions,
  2. hardship applicants must wait 3 business days after their court date before appearing at the Registry, and MUST first have appeared for in-take at their assigned first offender program.

Example:  On a court disposition on Monday, you may not appear at the Registry until Thursday.

Hardship applications may only be made at Registry locations that conduct hearings.  Presently, those branches are: Boston (630 Washington Street), Brockton, North Attleboro, Lowell, Worcester, Springfield and Lawrence. Theses locations are subject to change without notice.

You may not operate a motor vehicle until such time a hardship license may be granted.  Any evidence that you have been drinking since you have been suspended in this matter will be grounds for denial of your application.

You must provide the following documentation at the hearing:

:  Proof of hardship (i.e. employment, education, medical, etc.)

:  Proof of enrollment in a Massachusetts First Offender Program approved by the Department of Public Health.  No out of state programs authorized by MGL c.90, s24D.  You must first appear at the first offenders program that you have been assigned to for your initial interview, and have that documented on letterhead from the program.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Hardship licenses are not available under this law if you are suspended or revoked for any reason apart from this case, if charges other than OUI in this case cause you to be suspended or revoked, or if these charges combined with other incidents on your driving record result in other suspension or revocation action.

For assistance with this or any other legal problem contact Attorney Richard Sweeney at 617-328-6900 or at RSweeney@Rsweeneylaw.com

New England Patriots, UMass Football and Gillette Stadium Concert fans are being arrested in record numbers.

September 29, 2012

Every week UMass Football fans, New England Patriots fans, and concert goers are arrested at Gillette Stadium and in Foxborough Massachusetts by officers patrolling the stadium, roadways and the surrounding parking lots.  There is a large police presence at these events and they are looking for Fake IDs, drunken behavior and DUI’s. You can be issued a trespass order and if you don’t comply you find yourself under arrest. If you find yourself arrested and charged with a crime a good attorney can assist you in getting a diversion program or help you win your case in Wrentham Court.  We are experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys familiar with Wrentham Court and Gillette Stadium arrests.  Our attorneys have a combined experience of more than forty years of successfully defending people arrested for crimes all over Massachusetts.  Make us your law firm.   Call the law office of Sweeney and Associates in Massachusetts at 617-328-6900, or feel free to email any questions you may have on this or any Massachusetts Criminal Law to me at RSweeney@RSweeneylaw.com.   Please visit our web page for more information on a variety of topics at www.Rsweeneylaw.com.