A Boston Criminal Defense Attorney’s View Of Knowledge And Guilt In The Criminal Justice System

As a Boston criminal defense attorney, there is an oft-said and ill-fated sentence claimed by clients. It reads, “…but I didn’t know that was illegal!”

Unfortunately, such lack of knowledge does not usually matter. They really mean it when they say “ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Further, there are times when ignorance of the facts is basically irrelevent.

A prime example of the latter is the case of statutory rape. “But I didn’t know she was just shy of her thirteenth birthday…she told me she was twenty-five” is not going to be a viable defense.

Another example is something that a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School (clearly not an ignorant man by any estimation, yet, hereinafter, the “Defendant”) said this week about the trouble in which he has now found himself.

He had been hosting a graduation party in New Hampshire. He has released a statement that he didn’t know that there were students drinking at the high school graduation party .

Apparently, however, there were.

Now, the 46-year-old Needham Defendant and his wife (a pathologist who also teaches at the medical school) have been arrested and face charges for the underage drinking that occurred.

In fact, the Defendant has explained that he was so clear when he explained to the kids that no alcohol would be tolerated at the party that some of the offenders have since apologized to him, explaining that they hid the drinking from him, his wife and the other couple who had been supervising. Further, he has explained, “My wife and I have gone back over each decision along the way that we made and there’s nothing necessarily we would have done differently”.

He said if there was one error he and his wife made, it would be the size of the party, which was attended by dozens of people at a large house, with fields in both front and back, that Boyd had borrowed from a friend.

“I would keep it smaller or have five times as many chaperones – and in a confined place,” he said.

About 70 teenagers were taken into protective custody. Boyd and his wife face charges of facilitating an underage drinking party, the Associated Press reported.

Now, let’s take the flip side. Sometimes, it does matter what you know. For example, what if you are renting a room to someone and all of a sudden the police appear in your doorway (perhaps the door has been forcefully “removed”), they show you a search warrant and find some drugs or a gun in that boarder’s room?

Absolutely guilty?

Not necessarily. Unfortunately, however, you are likely to get arrested anyway because the assumption would be that you knew about the drugs or gun. Further, if the officers had a warrant, this is probably the result of a criminal investigation in which there were some alleged drug transactions out of the location. So, you will likely be arrested, but have a decent shot at an acquittal or dismissal (depending on certain details like the judge, prosecutor, attorney and your prior criminal history).

“So, I don’t get it Sam…what we know matters or it doesn’t?”

Unfortunately, the answer is one which we lawyers are often forced to say but people hate to hear – it depends. It depends on the specific law and it depends on the legal reality at the time in terms of the legal landscape at the time, as well as the circumstances of the case.

As I read once in a Batman comic book when Bruce Wayne was in school prior to donning the cape and cowl:

“But is that fair?”
“No, Mr. Wayne. It’s the law.”

They were discussing Felony Murder (when one is involved in the commission of a felony and someone gets killed during it, although the felon had not planned on that).

I am not suggesting in this blog that you dress up like a flying rodent and become a vigilante. I am suggesting, however, that there are aspects to criminal justice which might not seem to follow common sense and of which you may not be aware.

Sometimes, as the saying goes, what you don’t know can kill you. Or at least deprive you of your liberty.

So, if you are ever in a situation where you need a better of view of the criminal justice reality. Do not guess. If it is your freedom or a loved one’s future at stake, do not go it alone. As soon as the wind blows the scent of investigation or arrest to your doorstep, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Hey, we go to school and keep practicing for years thereafter to know this stuff. You were not born with the knowledge.

Should you wish to contact me for a free and confidential consultation, please feel free to do so by calling (617) 206-1942.

In the meantime, here is a comment about something you do know if you are a regular reader of this blog. The past few weeks have been dismal in terms of it being daily, which it is meant to be. For that, I apologize. My responsibity to clients must supercede that owed to my readers, however much I appreciate them.

Next week, I plan to have a special series of blogs (daily) about a certain theme. The postings will be in the nature of the regularly Friday “Attorney Sam’s Take” blogs. In keeping with this blog-scarcity-admission, the theme will be” Confessions Of A Former Prosecutor

I hope you will find it interesting and entertaining.

In the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!

To view the story upon which today’s blog is based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/06/harvard_doctor.html

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