Defenses to Crimes in Massachusetts

Have you or a loved one been charged with a crime in Massachusetts? Criminal defense attorney Kathleen McCarthy has specialized in criminal law for almost thirty years and provides free phone consultations for anyone seeking a qualified criminal defense lawyer.

One area that individuals often have questions about relates to potential defenses and/or legal arguments that can be made to successfully secure a not guilty verdict. Below is a discussion of defenses and legal arguments that can be made in certain cases if appropriate.

Alibi Defense

An alibi is a type of defense used by the accused to prove that he/she was in some other place at the time the alleged criminal offense took place. A defendant asserting this type of defense is maintaining that he or she did not commit the crime and was somewhere else when the crime occurred. Basically, the defense must convince the jury that the prosecution has the wrong person. In Massachusetts, the defense attorney has to provide notice to the prosecution that he or she is relying on the defense of an alibi. Although the word “alibi” may have negative connotations to the layperson, a jury instruction is available that cautions jurors against giving any “sinister connotation” to the word. Below is a hypothetical example of a fact pattern in which an alibi defense may be successful.

Example: John Doe was charged with robbing a bank. Doe offers evidence that he was attending a football game at the time of the robbery. The defense must proffer the time that Doe was at the game and any witnesses and related evidence that the defense intends to call to support this position. Witness testimony and/or video surveillance tape [if available] would be strong evidence supporting a defendant’s position in this area. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Doe was the person who committed the crime.

Reasonable Doubt Defense

In Massachusetts, the burden is on the Commonwealth to prove every element of the crime(s) beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the responsibility of the defense attorney to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. Reasonable doubt can be established through effective cross-examination of the Commonwealth’s witnesses. Areas that an experienced defense lawyer attacks are a witness’s ability to observe what he or she claims to have seen and any motive that a witness may have to testify for the government and/or against the defendant.

Stressing The Presumption of Innocence Defense

The presumption of innocence is the principle that a person is considered innocent of committing a crime until he/she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. All criminal defendants are cloaked in the presumption of innocence. During closing arguments a trial attorney should stress the Commonwealth’s burden and the fact that the defendant enjoys the presumption of innocence unless and until the Commonwealth overcomes that presumption by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Self-Defense

Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect oneself from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor if he/she has reason to believe he/she is in danger. It is a defense to certain criminal charges, such as assault and battery. Even if an individual is countering an attack, the defense must be reasonable. For example, an individual cannot use a gun to defend himself or herself to a fistfight. Once a claim of self-defense is raised, the burden is on the Commonwealth to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did not act in self-defense.

Defense of Others

The defense of others is the use of reasonable force to protect a family member or another person from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor if a person has reason to believe another person is in danger. Again, similar to a self-defense situation, excessive force cannot be used. The Commonwealth must also prove that a defendant was not acting in defense of another.

Entrapment

Entrapment is a criminal defense based on interaction between police officers and the accused prior to or during the alleged crime. In order to prevail with this defense the defendant must demonstrate that he or she was not otherwise predisposed to commit the offense without the coercion of the police. This defense can be successfully employed in drug cases in which the police repeatedly contact a defendant and lure him into selling drugs that he or she otherwise would not have sold.

Coercion Defense

A coercion defense can be used when the accused was forced to commit a crime due to the use of psychological pressure, physical force, or threats made by another person. Basically, a person does not commit a crime of his/her own free will. The crime is committed as a result of the individual being compelled by another through the use of physical force or threat of immediate serious bodily injury or death.

Duress Defense

The defense of duress arises when a person is threatened with the actual use of physical force into committing a crime. The following must be proven to successfully use a duress defense:

  1. There was an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm to the accused;
  2. The accused had a well-grounded fear the someone would carry out the threat;
  3. The accused had no reasonable opportunity for escape, except by committing the unlawful act.
Statute of Limitations Defense

The statute of limitations sets forth the time period in which the state must commence a case against a person for a crime. If the state tries to bring a case against a person after the time period has elapsed, the person charged can have the case dismissed. This does not happen automatically and a motion to dismiss due to a violation of the statute of limitations must be field and litigated. Depending on the circumstance, a statute of limitation may be tolled or suspended if a defendant left the Commonwealth. This allows the state additional time to commence legal action.

Double Jeopardy Defense

The 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that a person shall not be subject for the same criminal offense to be twice in jeopardy of life or limb. This means the government cannot prosecute someone more than once for the same crime once the Commonwealth has moved for trial. Thus, in a case in which a motion for a mistrial was granted to the defendant and the mistrial was the government’s “fault,” a motion to dismiss based on double jeopardy grounds should be filed and litigated.

Mistaken Identity Defense

Mistaken identity occurs when a witness or victim of a crime is mistaken in his/her memory that the accused is the perpetrator of a crime. The victim or witness may claim to see who committed the crime but is mistaken as to the identity of the alleged perpetrator. A cross examination that targets a witness’ lack of opportunity to observe the perpetrator, the fact that the witness was intoxicated (if appropriate) and any motive that a witness may have to testify for the Commonwealth are all fertile areas to examine to expose that a defendant is the victim of mistaken identity.

Contact Boston Criminal Defense Attorney Kathleen McCarthy

Criminal defense attorney Kathleen McCarthy is an experienced advocate who has successfully defended individuals in the Haverhill, Lawrence, Concord, Newburyport, Lowell and all other Massachusetts District Courts. As a former prosecutor, she knows what evidence, criminal procedure, and tactics to use in order to challenge the government’s case. If you want experience and skill on your side, call Attorney McCarthy at 978-975-8060, and she will get back to you immediately.