What Constitutes Disorderly Conduct in Massachusetts?

Over 2,000 people a year find themselves under arrest for disorderly conduct in Massachusetts. But what exactly is disorderly conduct? Often used as a catch-all offense when someone acts in a way that is likely to upset others, disorderly conduct actually applies to a range of activities. So if you engage in any number of behaviors that annoy the public at large, you may face a charge of disorderly conduct in Massachusetts.

While each state has its own laws about what constitutes disorderly conduct, Massachusetts defines it as “behavior that tends to disturb the public tranquility or to alarm or provoke others.” It includes fighting and threatening, engaging in agitated behavior that causes a public nuisance, and acting in a way that poses a hazard to public safety or creates a physically offensive condition for no justifiable reason.

We often get the question here at Altman and Altman LLP, if I have lost my Massachusetts drivers license due to a criminal or motor vehicle infraction, am I eligible to apply for a hardship license? In general (though with some exceptions) the answer is yes. There are two instances where the hardship license is unlikely to be granted are as follows:  If someone is serving a license suspension for refusing a breathalyzer test it is an uphill battle and very unlikely, In addition if someone had their license suspended for negligent or reckless homicide the answer is generally not likely as well.  However, other than these two examples if you/we can make a compelling case for a hardship license you have a real chance to be granted the license.  We have found that applying for a hardship license in Massachusetts is often not a futile or a time wasted process.

The best case scenario is that the Massachusetts Board of Appeals grants you a hardship license. The worst case scenario is that you are denied the hardship license, but the Board advises you as to why they are inclined to deny your request at this time. They will provide you/us with valuable information for the next time we apply for the license. For example, the Board may have wanted to see more of a work or family need for the hardship license to be issued, or the Board may have wanted to see the additional engagement of driving classes or courses. While there is some risk that that Board of Appeals will not permit you to re-apply for a certain period of time, we have found that they can be reasonable in that time frame, if they give any time constraints at all.

In our dealings with MA Board of Appeals and/or the DMV/RMV we have found them to be very understanding of one’s true need to have his or her driver’s license. This seems especially true in these pandemic/post pandemic times. While having a MA drivers license is a privilege and not a right. for many people not having the right to drive can be debilitating and potentially career threatening. Whether it be for employment, medical issues, or general family life, not having a driver’s license can be life altering.  If we can successfully prove to the board that that you are not a danger to the public, that you have taken adequate steps to ensure that the reason you were suspended in the first place would likely not re-occur and if you have a true hardship, we believe that there is a reasonable chance that you will be granted a hardship license.  That said, every case is taken on a case by case basis. But there should be a sense of optimism in obtaining a hardship license when going before the Board of Appeals. If you have questions about your potential hardship case, give us a call to talk with one of our experienced Massachusetts criminal defense lawyers.

What is a show cause hearing?

A show cause hearing is held before a Massachusetts district court magistrate to establish whether or not there is probable cause that you committed the crime you are accused of. In other words, the prosecution must demonstrate that the evidence shows reasonable grounds for you to be charged with the crime. It is generally available to you if you are accused of committing a misdemeanor crime that you were not arrested for. You may request one within four days of receiving a motor vehicle citation that details misdemeanor charges. At this hearing you, the accused, may bring witnesses. The clerk magistrate will ultimately determine if there is sufficient evidence to constitute probable cause.  If he or she determines there is, you will be given a date for your arraignment, where charges will be formally brought against you. If you were arrested, charged with a felony, or the magistrate determines that you may be dangerous, you are not entitled to a show cause hearing.

What is a probable cause hearing?

Foreign extradition is the process by which a criminal found within the United States, is handed over to another country for the sake of criminal proceedings in that country. This process is regulated by treaty and is handled by the federal government. The United States has agreements with over 100 countries. Often these treaties cover all acts that are considered crimes in both countries; however, some only apply to specific crimes. There are times when extradition is allowed without the presence of a treaty, but this will often only occur if the country offers reciprocity. In other words, the United States will not extradite to one country in the absence of a treaty unless the other country will extradite to the United States. The United States has even been willing to extradite people to another country, even when that country would not do the same. The bottom line: America is willing to extradite those within its borders to another country. If you are at risk of foreign extradition, contact one of our foreign extradition attorneys today.

What is an extraditable offense?

Extradition treaties must lay out specific offenses that warrant extradition. In cases where the specific offense is not listed in the treaty, extradition will not be allowed. Many countries, including the United States, may also refuse to extradite offenses that allow for the death penalty in the requesting country.

What is an open warrant?

Open warrants give police officers the authority to arrest a specific individual. Somebody with an open warrant against them may be pulled over. When officers pull you over, they run your name through their system. If there are any open warrants against you, you will likely be arrested on the spot. Open warrants are issued for many reasons. There are two types, default warrants and straight warrants.

Default Warrants

Who is a clerk’s hearing available to?

A Clerk’s Magistrate Hearing, also known as a Show Cause Hearing, is an incredible opportunity for you to prevent a criminal case from appearing on your criminal record (CORI). You will receive a notice to appear for a clerk’s hearing if you were not arrested and brought in for arraignment. This is common for misdemeanor charges and for felonies for which the officer chooses not to arrest you on-site, or for crimes in which an officer was not actually present. The most common clerk’s hearing occurs in response to a Motor Vehicle Citation, or speeding ticket. In this case, you will not receive a notice to attend. Instead it is your responsibility to go to the court within four days of receiving the ticket. A clerk’s hearing occurs in lieu of an arrest when civilians ask the court to bring a criminal charge against you. Massachusetts law requires that, if the officer does not arrest you, the officer ask the court to notify you before a complaint is filed against you. You will then be issued the notice before you are formally charged. The notice typically comes in the mail. Many respondents see this as an indication that the matter is not serious. This is not the case.

What happens at the hearing?

Criminal records have a way of following people, making it more difficult to secure employment or many other public benefits such as public housing. The fact is: most employers do not hire people with criminal records. Parents may face issues participating in parental involvement at their children’s schools as a result of an unsealed record.

Sealing your criminal record essentially makes it less accessible. Most employers and landlords will not be able to access it when the do a run-of-the-mill CORI check. You can legally tell employers that you have no record. You can get your record sealed either by mail or in court, depending on the outcome of the case. It is of note that when one of these parties looks up your CORI, it will not say that your record is sealed. It will simply not show your sealed records. This presents an incredible opportunity for a second chance. Your charges do not have to follow you around for the rest of your life, and we can help you seal them.

Sealing a conviction

Most cases allow for you to simply mail in a form to the Commissioner of Probation after waiting a certain period of time. For a misdemeanor, this period is three years, and for a felony, seven years. Convictions can only be sealed in this manner, with the exclusion of a first-time drug possession conviction which can also be sealed in court. If you were found guilty the period starts running from the date the verdict was found. If you were incarcerated after a guilty finding, the period starts running from the date you were released from prison. Convictions for violations of abuse prevention or harassment prevention, as well as convictions for sex offenses, are exceptions and carry longer waiting periods than other felonies.

Some convictions cannot be sealed. These include certain firearm offenses, crimes against the public, Ethics Act violation, or certain crimes if you are a registered sex offender. Individuals charged with possession of marijuana can now seal their records or expunge them in certain cases. Contact us to evaluate which option is better for you.

Other dispositions

Many people don’t realize that even if the case did not end in a conviction, they have a criminal record. If a case was dismissed, ended in a “not guilty” finding, or it was dropped by the prosecutor, the case can be sealed in court by a judge, with no waiting period attached. This also applies to the aforementioned first-time drug possession charge as long as the defendant followed the terms of their probation. Those whose cases result in these findings also have the option of sealing their record by mail after following the prescribed waiting period.

There are a few types of employers and agencies that can access information about your sealed record. This includes: The Department of Early Education and Care, The Department of Children and Families, The Department of Youth Services, and Criminal Justice agencies. This is a concern only when you are applying to work as a daycare working, trying to become a foster parent, or when you are convicted of a subsequent crime. Continue reading

The Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT) has now been involved in a scandal for several years for its inadequate testing and withholding of breathalyzer certifications relating to the Alcotest 9510 device. The Alcotest 9510 has been under scrutiny since 2017 when Draeger Safety Diagnostics, the manufacturer of the breathalyzers, called several thousand devices into question. The company admitted in court testimony that the device was improperly programmed, leading to incorrect values and affecting the accuracy of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for OUI-related breath testing.

In Massachusetts, the maximum BAC if 0.08% for drivers over the age of 21 and 0.02% for drivers under the age of 21. In many cases, the driver’s punishment of a fine or even jail time is dependent on the number that appears on this little black box. As more than 1 million Americans are arrested for OUI each year, faulty breath testing is a huge issue in the state of Massachusetts, and everyone has an interest in guaranteeing that these tests are as accurate as possible.

The Alcotest 9510 uses two sensors to measure alcohol content in a driver’s breath: an infrared beam and an electrochemical fuel cell. The results of the two measurements should be almost identical, but if the results differ too much, the test should be rejected due to the potential for inaccurate readings. The issue with this device is that is does not shut down when values are too far apart, and inaccurate readings are instead treated as an indication of drugs or alcohol in the driver’s system. After an inspection of 400 machines in 2017, not a single machine was programmed correctly. Up to 20% were likely to produce false positive values for BAC, information which OAT was intentionally withholding. This means that the machine may display an illegal BAC reading when the driver is not actually over the legal limit.

In February 2017, the court ordered tests dating back to June 2011 be assumed inaccurate and excluded from evidence pending a demonstration on a case-by-case basis that the device was reliable. In January 2019, the court ordered that OAT comply with new standards and be on track for accreditation before this ban would be lifted. This presumptive exclusion was lifted on April 18, 2019, despite the fact that Draeger had not updated 90% of its machines. Breath tests can now be used as evidence for OUI charges in the Commonwealth, but the prosecution will have to demonstrate that the device used complied with OAT’s new standards.

New issues have surfaced recently. Kristen Sullivan the director of the State Police Crime Laboratory released a statement on June 10 revealing that over 400 breath-test or over-limit test results sent to the RMV had required sections left blank. On both types of reports, the sections included a certification that the officer preparing the report was the one that refusal was made to or who administered the test, as well as acknowledgement that the report was prepared under penalty of perjury. OAT found that 435 of these reports were incomplete or improper since the device went into service in 2011. Joseph D. Bernard, the lead attorney in the original case, has called for Gov. Charlie Baker to remove all devices from service until these inconsistencies can be resolved. Continue reading

Michelle Carter has been released early from prison.

The case that sparked legal precedent and resulted in polarizing, nationwide discussions has once again made headlines, as Michelle Carter – the 23-year-old Plainville, MA woman who was sentenced to manslaughter after encouraging her then-boyfriend through text messages to go through with a suicide attempt – was released early on Thursday, Jan. 23 from her cell in the Bristol County House of Corrections.

Carter was originally sentenced to two and a half years in prison in August of 2017, with 15 months to serve and five years of probation. Her release on Thursday comes marks around 11 months of time served.

Reports indicate that Carter was released early from prison due to a significant accrual of good behavior – including working in the prison’s community garden and serving food in the kitchen. Inmates in Massachusetts are permitted to earn 10 days off their sentences each month if they perform various functions – like volunteering for jobs and services in the jail – and avoiding further trouble while incarcerated.

A case unlike any before it

The case generated nationwide appeal because of its unprecedented nature. Carter did not physically coerce Conrad Roy to get back into his truck and go forward with his suicide attempt, however the sheer amount of evidence presented by the prosecution through text messages made it difficult to argue that she wasn’t, in some way, legally culpable for his going through with it.

For example, the prosecution showed how Carter – who entered into a long-distance relationship in February of 2012 – sent text messages to Roy over the course of two weeks in 2014 that encouraged him to commit suicide or belittled him for being hesitant about committing suicide more than 40 times. Roy had also suffered from mental health issues and had attempted suicide in the past, facts that Carter was aware of.

Carter even was shown to have had two conversations allotting to over 80 minutes with Roy on July 12, 2014 – the day that he ultimately went through with his suicide – and even admitted to sharing blame for his death.

“Sam his death is my fault like honestly I could have stopped him I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I [expletive] told him to get back in,” Carter was shown to have said in a text to a friend. “Sam because I knew he would do it all over again the next day and I couldn’t have him live the way he was living anymore I couldn’t do it I wouldn’t let him,” another text continued.

Trial Judge Lawrence Moniz ultimately convicted Carter of involuntary manslaughter, concluding that she had not only coerced Roy to re-enter the truck where he ultimately succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, but had also refused to call for help despite knowing the scenario he was in. Continue reading

Governor Charlie Baker recently signed into law a new ban on using cellphones and other electronic handheld devices while driving. When it takes effect, it will change the rules of the road in Massachusetts for good – and has plenty of implications that are important to learn. Even without this law in effect yet, if you are involved in a vehicular accident where the other person was using a cell phone or other device, contact Altman & Altman LLP right away to get working on a claim.

What to know about the new law

The new ban on cell phones and electronic devices will go into full effect on February 23 – 90 days after it was passed through the legislature and signed into law by Governor Baker. However, motorists will receive warnings for their first violation until April 1, as a grace period will bridge the gap between the law going into effect and being fully enforceable by law enforcement officers.

To simplify the language of the law, it will effectively ban the use of any electronic device that takes your hands and attention away from focusing on the task of driving safely. This means that in order to call somebody or use other features of a cellular device, you will need to have a hands-free system of some sort – such as Bluetooth – set up within the vehicle, so you can activate it with buttons on the car’s steering wheel or through voice activation. The law does allow for so-called “single tap or swipe” actions to activate hands-free modes, if necessary.

The law bars drivers from reading text messages, continues existing prohibition on texting while driving and restricts motorists from looking at pictures or videos while driving – with the one major exception being apps used for navigation, like Google Maps or other GPS services. However, the phone must be mounted in a location that doesn’t obstruct the driver, such as in the corner of the windshield, on the dashboard or in the center console.

In addition to the new specifically prohibited actions, the law also allows for use of handheld electronics in a few specific instances, including:

  • Emergency situations where a call must be placed for medical attention, or an emergency call put in to police or fire departments
  • Situations where you are reporting a motor vehicle accident or disabled vehicle that you have witnessed
  • First responders who are on duty and driving emergency service vehicles are exempt from the law
  • Situations where the motorist is at rest, completely stationary, and not in an active lane of travel – meaning you cannot use your phone while simply stuck in traffic

Violations of the law can result in being pulled over by a police officer – which will result in a $100 for the first offense. Repeat offenders can be charged $250 for the second violation and $500 for the third and each subsequent offense. Additionally, the third violation and beyond will have consequences on your car insurance rates. Those with more than one violation will be mandated to complete a distracted driving program.

Contrary to some belief, the law does not apply to bicyclists, and it applies only to motor vehicles. Continue reading

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