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.

Boston’s Attorney General Targets Harassment And Hate Crimes

Yesterday’s daily Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog talked about “Road Rage“. I even mentioned “Domestic Violence” cases. Today, we hit their cousin, “Hate Crimes“.

Hate Crimes is another category which brings extra focus on a case which otherwise might be a typical assault, threats or other such case. What makes a case a hate crime is the rationale behind the crime. If it is motivated by racial, gender or other kind of prejudice, it is a hate crime and gets special treatment. In fact, in the federal system, an additional count regarding civil rights violations can be brought.

Today’s example involves Debroah M. of Norwood (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) who has come to the attention of Attorney General Martha Coakley who has taken action against her. The Defendant is alleged to have repeatedly harassed a gay neighbor.

The neighbor is a tenant in the same apartment building where the Defendant lives. The Defendant is said to have been engaging in the harassment for a long time. In November, 2007, for example, officials said she began spreading false rumors that the victim is a sexual predator and pedophile.

A complaint was filed December 31st by the Attorney General. It alleges how the Defendant harassed the victim in a number of ways, including spreading false rumors that he was a sexual predator and pedophile, screaming anti-gay epithets at him, and falsely reporting to police that he had exposed himself.

The complaint further states that six months later, the Defendant complained to her landlords about the victim’s display of a gay pride flag outside his apartment and had the flag removed. Soon thereafter, on multiple occasions, she allegedly screamed anti-gay epithets at the victim in the presence of other tenants and physically confronted the victim in the yard of his home.

The complaint further alleges that on August 31, 2008, the Defendant made a baseless report to the Norwood Police Department falsely claiming that the victim had exposed himself.

“Bias-motivated conduct, such as the harassment and intimidation we allege in this case, are devastating to victims not only because of the immediate physical and emotional harm they cause, but because feelings of fear, anxiety and profound loss of personal security often last far longer than the incident,” said Coakley. “Beyond their impact on individual victims, hate crimes and other forms of bias-motivated activity are very detrimental to communities, and this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

A court order successfully sought by Coakely prohibits the Defendant from threatening, intimidating, or coercing the victim or anyone else in the state on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. It also prevents the Defendant from contacting or communicating with the alleged victim or his family and requires her to stay at least 500 yards from his place of employment.

A violation of the injunction is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and two and a half years in a house of correction, or if bodily injury results from such a violation, a $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in state prison.

If it sounds like a restraining order pursuant to 209A which we have discussed, it should; it is. However, because it is not a family or similar relationship, a typical 209A hearing would not be available.

Attorney Sam’s Take:

In January 6’s blog, we discussed First Amendment rights to free speech. Obviously, this is another exception.

In case you are wondering, it is generally a crime to harass someone, whether or not it is based on their sexual orientation, their gender or, simply because you simply do not like him.

However, when the matter has been deemed a “hate crime”, it takes on an additional proportion. The case ends up being beyond the actual defendant and because symbolic.

In other words, it becomes political.

Like a restraining order allowed in a 209A hearing, the violation of the order is indeed a crime. These crimes are treated extremely seriously. Unfortunately, because an allegation is made does not mean that the allegation is true. Therefore, the same rules apply that we have discussed in the past.

It is important to keep in mind a misunderstanding about the system that many people still seem to have. I continue to meet clients against whom violating such an order tell me, “there is no evidence against me – it is just her word”.

Wrong.

There may be no evidence other than “her” word…but that word is evidence. If believed beyond a reasonable doubt, it is enough to convict.

The belief that one witness’ word is not enough to send someone to jail is incorrect and it is dangerous. It is dangerous because it creates a false sense of security. That false sense of security gives the defendant the feeling that he really does not need to take defending against the allegations seriously.

That false sense of security is often popped when the verdict is “guilty”.

If you find yourself either being investigated or facing charges of these types of crimes, my advice is the same it has always been. Take it seriously and contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to advise and defend you.

Do so immediately…or sooner.

In the meantime, though,

Have a good and law-abiding weekend!

The full articles of this story can be found at http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/18430404/detail.html , http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/01/ag_wins_court_o.html and http://www.edgeboston.com/index.php?ch=news&sc=&sc2=news&sc3=&id=85641

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