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Boston Criminal Defense Law Blog

Larceny laws in Massachusetts

Larceny is the "taking of someone else's property without the use of force" - this is the main difference between larceny and robbery, which is generally defined as the taking of someone's property with threats, intimidation and force. To be convicted for larceny in Massachusetts, a defendant must have unlawfully taken and carried away someone else's property without that person's consent. They must have also acted with the intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently.

First, the unlawful taking element of larceny requires that the defendant take another's property unlawfully. If a defendant took property for a lawful purpose (such as a bank repossessing a car) they will not be guilty of larceny. Second, if the property taken actually belongs to the defendant, then the defendant's actions would not constitute larceny.

Four grounds for appeal based on harmful error

A previous blog post discussed the process of appealing a criminal conviction or sentence in Massachusetts. Harmless errors - or ones that do not affect the substantial rights of the defendant - will not justify reversal. To justify reversal, the error must have been a harmful error affecting the substantial rights of the defendant.

The four main grounds for appeal based on harmful error are that the lower court made a plain error, there is insufficient weight of evidence, there was an abuse of discretion and the defendant had ineffective assistance of counsel. To show that the court made a plain error, a defendant must show that there was an error affecting his or her substantial rights that was not brought to the judge's attention during trial. Miscalculated sentences and penalties are a common basis for appeals based on plain error.

Felony drug charges: school zone violations

In Massachusetts, possession with intent to distribute is a felony drug charge, regardless of the type of drug the defendant is accused of having. Those convicted of possession with intent to distribute may face up to two years in jail for a first offense. Second and subsequent offenses may carry more serious sentences depending on the type of drug and circumstances of the case. Those accused of selling or intending to distribute drugs in a school zone may be subject to sentence enhancement.

An accused will be found in violation of Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of controlled substances on or near school property if they are within 300 feet of a public or private preschool, headstart facility, elementary, vocational or secondary school or within 100 feet of a public park or playground between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and midnight. It does not matter if the school is in session or whether the defendant knew that he or she was near a school.

Charged with a DUI, now what?

If you recently received a DUI charge in Boston, you might be stressing about what will happen next. If you are a first-time offender with a clean criminal record, it may seem like it is the end of the world. Although you should not make light of your situation, it is important for you to remain calm. 

A drunk driving charge can have a long-term impact on your life that may follow you around forever. You are at risk of receiving a jail sentence, criminal conviction and other penalties that can make your life much harder. Take some time to learn what you should expect when you have a pending DUI charge. 

The National Sex Offender public website

A previous blog post discussed the Massachusetts sex offender registration requirements. Sex offenders convicted of certain offenses must comply with Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Law which requires them to report personal details such as their names, addresses, height, weight and date of birth. Sex offenders who are classified as Level 2 or 3 must also provide fingerprints and photographs taken by local police. This information is not only available to Massachusetts residents; the National Sex Offender Registry makes the information public to everyone in the United States.

The National Sex Offender Public Registry was established in 2005 and then renamed the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website in honor of a college student from North Dakota who was kidnapped and murdered by a Minnesota-registered sex offender. The first of its kind, the NSOPW provides the pubic with nationwide sex offender data. The U.S Department of Justice, state, territorial and tribal governments all work together to provide this resource.

What not to do when you have pending criminal charges

You may feel like it is the end of the world if you have criminal charges pending against you in Boston. After all, you may not know what to expect and how misdemeanor or felony criminal charges can hurt your future. It is important for you not to let your feelings or stress get in the way of how you handle the situation. 

You need a clear mind so you can keep track of things and make the right decisions moving forward. Until the judge issues a verdict in your case, you should be mindful of the things you say and do. Here is a brief overview of actions that can have an adverse impact on your situation. 

Massachusetts sex offender registration requirements

In Massachusetts, sex offenders may be required to provide certain information to assist law enforcement officials in identifying sex offenders and to reduce opportunities for commission of sex crimes within communities. The Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Law requires sex offenders convicted of certain offenses to comply with registration requirements within two days of receiving notification of their duty to register.

Registered sex offenders will be classified as Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 offenders depending on their risk of re-offense and degree of dangerousness posed to the public. Some crimes requiring sex offender registration are: indecent assault and battery, rape, assault with intent to commit rape, kidnapping of a child, drugging persons for sexual intercourse, inducing a minor into prostitution, possession of child pornography and sex trafficking.

Grounds for appealing a criminal conviction or sentence

A previous blog post discussed the process of appealing a criminal conviction or sentence. If the trial court error involved the defendant's constitutional rights, the conviction would be subject to automatic reversal. Otherwise, a reversal will only be granted to defendants who can show that a harmful error occurred which affected their substantial rights. Harmless errors, ones that did not contribute to the guilty verdict, will not justify a reversal.

There are four main grounds for appeal based on harmful errors - the lower court made a plain error, there is insufficient weight of evidence, defendant had ineffective assistance of counsel and there was an abuse of discretion. Plain errors or defects form the basis for a successful appeal when there was an error or defect affecting the defendant's substantial rights which was not pointed out at trial. Plain error often occurs when judges miscalculate sentences; in that situation, the case would be returned to the trial court for re-sentencing.

When can you ask a leading question in a criminal case?

Most of us have seen some sort of crime show or movie that portrays a trial taking place in a courtroom. The victim is testifying and the prosecutor is asking her questions. To drive home a point, he asks, “Jennifer, isn’t it true that the defendant had been stalking you for months?” “Yes,” she yells, “Months and months!”

While this makes for good television drama, it is not allowed in real-life and a good defense attorney would shout, “Objection!” before Jennifer gets a change to answer.

Appealing a criminal conviction or sentence in Massachusetts

Once defendants have been convicted, they have the right to appeal on certain grounds. In Massachusetts, a defendant may appeal in several circumstances including when new evidence was discovered that could affect the outcome of the case, evidence was improperly admitted, incorrect legal rulings or jury instructions were given or other legal errors were made that significantly impacted the outcome of the case. Generally, direct appeals are first made to the Appeals Court, after which they may proceed to the Supreme Judicial Court for further appellate review. However, in the case of a first-degree murder conviction, the case will proceed directly to the SJC.

When appealing a conviction or sentence, a defendant is asking a higher court to review the decision of the lower court and determine if there was legal error. An appellate court judge will generally defer to a trial court judge's ruling, however there are certain types of errors that may cause an appellate court to overturn a guilty verdict or sentence.

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