Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

We have been talking about the tragic murder of Police Officer Sean Gannon and his reputed assassin, Thomas Latanowich (hereinafter, the “Defendant”).

Yesterday I shared with you a petition which is online to answer the latest call to penalize judges for the actions certain defendants take.

I think I made my position on that issue relatively clear. Now, let me explain why.

Attorney Sam’s Take On Judges, Powers And Criminal Sentences

First of all, let’s demystify how criminal cases end. There are three options. Either there is an agreement made between the parties, there is a trial or the case gets dismissed for a legal reason…such as there is no evidence that can be presented.

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Last Friday, we ended the week with the tragic story of a slain police officer. He was murdered in the line of duty. His alleged killer was a man with a criminal record “as long as your arm”. Maybe longer.

The murder took place in Yarmouth. The officer was the late Yarmouth Police Officer Sean Gannon. The gent with the record is accused of killing Officer Gannon is Thomas Latanowich (hereinafter, the “Defendant”).

And now, not wasting a moment, the expected call for the quickie solution to a complicated problem has begun.

In short, “blame the judges!”

We have been here before, looking at this same situation. Only the details have changed alittle. This time, the victim was a very well thought of police officer and his police dog,

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If you base your knowledge of crime on what is presented by the media, and the Trump administration, it would be easy to assume that U.S. crime is at an all-time high. However, quite the opposite is true. Here are some surprising facts about current crime rates, nationwide.

Drop in Violent Crimes

The rate of violent crime has dropped dramatically over the past 25 years, following its peak in the early 1990s. According to the FBI’s annual crime report and a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) survey of more than 90,000 U.S. households, violent crime has fallen between 48 and 74 percent since 1993. That being said, the FBI did report a 20 percent rise in the murder rate between 2014 and 2016. Even so, overall violent crime is the lowest its been in decades, across the nation.

Drop in Property Crimes

Property crimes—which include burglary and motor vehicle theft—have also seen a significant decrease in recent years. Similar to the drop in violent crime, property crime in the U.S. has fallen between 48 and 66 percent between 1993 and 2016, and property crimes are much more common than those of a violent nature. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with any type of criminal offense.

Pessimism

Public opinions about U.S. crime rarely lines up with actual statistics. For example, according to several polls, Americans commonly report that crime is up when data shows the exact opposite. In fact, according to 17 Gallup surveys taken since 1993, at least six-in-ten Americans said they believed there was more crime in that year compared to the previous year. Pew Research Center has experienced a similar outcome with their surveys. In a 2016 survey, more than half of registered voters said U.S. crime had worsened since 2008, even though it saw a rapid decline during that period.

Location, Location, Location

Crime varies widely based on geography. For example, while there were more than 600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Alaska and Nevada, violent crime rates in Vermont and New Hampshire were below 200 for every 100,000 people. And Boston is no exception. According to statistics and police reports, serious crimes in Boston have dropped by up to 22 percent since 2014. But for many residents who live in areas with a higher concentration of violent crime—such as Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury—the drop isn’t as noticeable. “We still have a lot of work to do,” said Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who went on to say that even the most violent neighborhoods are more peaceful than in the past. A MA criminal defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a crime. Continue reading

In the wake of multiple mass shootings, many involving schools, the debate about increased gun control is going strong. Vermont may have had one of the most shocking responses, as it moved from one of the most lenient states on gun control to one of the strictest. Last week, VT Governor Phil Scott signed into law three bills that tighten gun restrictions across the state.

Vermont’s new laws raise the legal age to purchase firearms to 21, increase the state’s authority to remove guns from individuals who pose a threat, and ban high-capacity magazines. According to the Associated Press, Vermont’s new laws represent “the first significant gun ownership restrictions in state history.” In fact, a suspected school shooter may have already been prevented from purchasing a gun due to the new laws.

Expanded Background Checks

In addition to the restrictions above, Vermont’s new gun control laws also ensure that state background checks are more thorough, and prohibit gun ownership for individuals arrested, or even cited for, domestic assault. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a crime.

According to a report in the New York Times, immediately following the Parkland shooting, Governor Scott said that increased gun laws weren’t necessary. But a day after making this statement, a Vermont teen was arrested on suspicion that he was planning a school shooting. Jack Sawyer allegedly had a diary entitled “Journal of an Active Shooter” and had planned to orchestrate a mass shooting at Fair Haven Union High School. In fact, according to reports, Sawyer’s goal was to be responsible for the deadliest school shooting to date.

“This is not the time to do what’s easy,” said Governor Scott, “it’s time to do what’s right.”

Gun Control Laws in Massachusetts

How does Massachusetts compare to Vermont when it comes to gun control laws? For the past four years, MA has been considered one of the strictest gun control states in the nation. In 2014, the bay state gave more discretion to law enforcement to deny gun permits to “unsuitable” individuals. MA also places tight restrictions on assault weapons, and has participated in a nationwide campaign to prevent mentally ill individuals from obtaining firearms.

Have MA’s gun control laws helped? According to statistics, the answer is yes. MA’s gun death rate is about 70 percent less than the national average. And many of the guns used in fatal crimes actually come from other states. In 2014, the majority of guns used in MA crimes came from states with more lax gun control laws, including Georgia and Florida. Continue reading

The reports are still coming in from Yarmouth. The Boston Herald tells us about the Yarmouth K-9 police officer who was fatally shot and dog wounded. The shots allegedly came from a suspect who was hiding in the attic of a Marstons Mills home as officers searched the house yesterday afternoon, police said.

K-9 officer Sean Gannon, 32, later died at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.

The suspect, later identified as Thomas Latanowich, 29, and hereinafter, the “Defendant”, remained barricaded in the house for several hours in the Barnstable village as SWAT teams ringed the house. The Defendant was later taken into custody and was  arraigned on a murder charge today in Barnstable District Court.

The Defendant pleaded not guilty to murder and was held without bail. His next hearing will be June 26.

The court room was filled during the arraignment with police officers from Yarmouth and Barnstable Police Departments.

The Defendant entered the court with his head down. He made no

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Sometimes, even though we may not know all the facts, it is clear that some horrible tragedy has taken place. Probably one that has something to do with distorted perceptions of some kind. By some body.

Either that or pure evil. But then, I do not tend to believe in “pure evil” in such situations. I’ve seen too much.

But I digress (already).

In Fitchburg District Court, the allegations were presented in open court. The event was the arraignment of mother Shana Pedroso, 37, and the children’s father, Marvin Brito, 38. After the hearing, the two were ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing next Wednesday.

The case involves a 6-year-old girl and her 9-year-old brother. The 6-year-old girl is dead.

The brother told police that he and his sister went out for a walk on Monday with their parents and two other kids. He said that when the parents left them, “he and his sister were attacked by bullies,” according to a police report.

The brother, according to the police, suffered “serious injuries and bruising to his face.” He also told officers his mother “had glued a wound on his neck closed with super glue,” and that his parents had told him not to call 911.

The sister was pronounced dead after being found unresponsive in the family’s home on Stoneybrook Road, where the children were home-schooled.

Police said they observed “extensive bruising of various ages over her entire body.” Her brother said she was unable to drink yesterday morning “and that his mother was mad.”

Police said that while booking Pedroso yesterday they found handwritten notes on her dated Monday saying “that the children were bad and beaten.”

According to the Boston Herald,  the mother is facing charges of assault and battery causing injury to her children and reckless endangerment of their lives. Dad was charged with permitting substantial injury to the children, in addition to reckless endangerment.

Prosecutors did not rule out further charges.

The Department of Children and Families has taken custody of the 9-year-old boy and said that the agency had no prior involvement with the family, adding in a statement, “The Department of Children and Families continues to assist law enforcement in the active investigation of this tragedy.”

Attorney Sam’s Take On The Case As It Is And Could Be

I suppose that the assumption here is that the mother’s note regarding the children being “bad and beaten” is a mere reflection of what happened. That the mother, perhaps unaware that any wrongdoing somehow was simply doing her job as a home schooling mother and keeping accurate notes of the day’s events.

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Just as defendants in a criminal case have certain rights, so do witnesses. The information you are obligated to provide when asked is dependent on the nature of the case, and who is doing the asking. For example, if an attorney or detective calls you hoping that you’ll speak about the case, you are not legally obligated to do so, unless you have been subpoenaed.

If you do receive a subpoena, you are required to show up for the meeting or trial, and to provide the requested information. You can, however, employ your fifth amendment right by refusing to answer anything that could incriminate you. Additionally, you can refuse to testify about any communications that you may have had with your spouse.

Perjury

If you testify, you are under oath. As a result, you are obligated to tell the truth. This is as true of a deposition as a trial in front of a grand jury. Any lies or misleading comments given during your testimony may be considered perjury. Perjury is the crime of lying under oath (“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”), and it is a felony offense. A conviction of perjury under federal law may carry up to five years in prison. In order to be considered perjury the act must:

  • Occur under oath
  • Include an actual statement (silence is not perjury)
  • Intentionally mislead the court
  • Be material to the case (a lie or exaggeration that has no bearing on the case is not likely to be considered perjury).

A MA criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been called as a witness to a criminal case.

Victim Witnesses

If, in addition to being a witness to a crime you are also a victim of that crime, you have additional rights. Whereas a non-victim witness is not allowed to attend court proceedings related to the crime in question (other than one at which he/she is required to testify), victim witnesses have a right to be present at any public court proceedings. Victim witnesses also have the right to be informed of the defendant’s release or detention status, as well as the status of the ongoing investigation.

Legal Counsel

If you have been called as a witness to a criminal case, it is in your best interest to hire your own attorney. In addition to ensuring that you know your rights, an attorney can help you to avoid making incriminating testimony. When called as a witness, you do have rights, but you also have obligations. Determining what you have to do and what you can refuse, and how to not incriminate yourself, is much easier with legal counsel. Further, an experienced Boston criminal defense attorney can ensure that other attorneys follow the rules when questioning you. For example, attorneys are not permitted to “badger the witness” during testimony. Continue reading

Okay… maybe that is a little misleading. Maybe they weren’t really lies.

Perhaps, when you were taught them, your teachers and parents thought that they were actually true. Maybe they even were true at the time.

But not any more. Not really.

Attorney Sam’s Take On Criminal Justice Reality

Time and again I am saddened by clients who thought they were playing “by the rules”, actually were playing by those rules and yet the system made them suffer for it. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  1. If you always do what you feel is the morally correct thing to do, you won’t get into trouble.

While it would be nice if that were true, it is not always true. First of all, it completely ignores that different people feel that different things are the “right thing to do”. I am not even referring to those of us who are deranged or otherwise have a broken moral compass. Sometimes even doing what seems to be obviously the right thing to do can get you in trouble. For example, the law may not agree with you in terms of the right thing to do.

I once handled the case where my client was trying to help a child, who was a close friend of his young daughters, in a very physically painful situation. The girl was young and her parents where nowhere reachable. Helping her pain was easy and something that he had had to do several times for his own daughter of that same tender age. In fact, the child was begging him to provide the medication that would eliminate the pain.

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After a week of various news stories about police officers behaving badly, not so long after my 3-parter about that not necessarily being an unusual exception to the rule…it seemed like this update might be rather timely.

According to Boston.com, what’s been forecasted for quite awhile is now apparently happening. The Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) has now ordered the dismissal of thousands of drug cases tainted by a former chemist who authorities say was high almost every day she worked at a state drug lab for eight years.

Yes, the old Sonja Farak (hereinafter, the “Chemist”) story again.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Committee for Public Counsel Services (“CPCS”), the state’s public defender agency, more than 11,000 convictions in nearly 7,700 cases are being tossed. Both agencies are also asking the court to throw out thousands of other cases potentially impacted by the Chemist.

Prosecutors have also agreed to dismiss the cases tainted by the Chemist, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing drugs from the lab.

The Chemist’s case is separate from another Massachusetts drug lab scandal that resulted in the dismissal of some 21,000 convictions last year. Of course, both are separate and apart from a rather infamous rogue chemist and the thousands of cases that were dismissed because of her fraudulent actions a few years ago.

Attorney Sam’s Take On An Old History Adage

There is an old saying, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In more modern terms, I used to watch the television show Twin Peaks, which featured the quote, “It is happening again.”

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Fans of the hit podcast Serial will be interested to learn that Adnan Syed, the man whose murder conviction is the focus of the show, has been granted a new trial. Last week, Maryland’s second-highest court upheld a lower-court’s ruling that—due to deficient counsel in his original trial—Syed deserves a new trial.

The appeals court’s three-judge panel said on Thursday that his legal counsel’s “deficient performance prejudiced Syed’s defense.” They went on to say that if the defense team had managed to contact even one witness with an alibi that could “have raised a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror,” the outcome may have been different. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a crime.

Multiple Inconsistencies

The first season of Serial followed the investigation into the murder conviction of Adnan Syed. About 18 years ago, Syed was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. But the show’s host, Sarah Koenig, uncovered multiple inconsistencies in the case against Syed. For example, a woman by the name of Asia McLean should have been contacted as an alibi witness; she reported having seen Syed at the same time Lee’s murder was alleged to have occurred. However, not only was McLean not contacted by the defense team, her testimony never appeared in court.

Although Thursday’s ruling upholds a previous decision to retry Syed’s case in Maryland’s circuit court, there is a good possibility that prosecutors will appeal.

In addition to failing to contact McLean, Syed’s defense team neglected to question evidence used to trace Syed to the crime scene, including the reliability of a cell phone tower that placed him at the site where Lee’s body was found in a shallow grave.

Failure to Present an Alibi Witness

Syed’s lawyers argued that his former counsel provided ineffective assistance, primarily based on the fact that Asia McLean—who said Syed was at the library at the time of the murder—was never presented as an alibi witness. Had the jury been given this information, it is possible that a reasonable doubt may have been raised in the mind of at least one juror. Judge Martin Welch agreed, saying that Syed’s previous counsel “fell below the standard of reasonable professional judgment.”

Prosecutors have 30 days within which to appeal this decision or proceed with the new trial. Whether Syed is granted bail while awaiting his new trial has not yet been determined. A MA defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with murder or any other crime. Continue reading

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