As a Boston-area criminal defense attorney, I face many “There but for the grace of G-d go I” moments. As I have often discussed in these postings, I am constantly presented with lives that have been ruined by very bad moments. Such moments can change an otherwise on-track life into something of a living nightmare. Some people choose such moments on a regular basis. For others, dealing with the debris of one such moment is enough to last a life-time.
Last week, I side-stepped one such moment.
I was appearing on a murder case at Suffolk Superior Court which involved a shooting. As it turned out, the next door session had a murder trial of its own in which the jury was deliberating. Ironically, the subject matter of that case was related to my case. I waited awhile in case the verdict came, but it did not.
It came the next day instead. I wasn’t there, but I learned in the papers that the verdicts were guilty. But, as it turned out, the verdicts were the least of the excitement the court experienced.
Moments after the defendants were denounced by the deceased’s family for their “animalistic” actions in a victim impact statement, the courtroom exploded into a melee between said victims and families of the four men convicted of murdering the 16-year-old on a Dorchester street in 2007.
After being given the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder (life with the possibility of parole after serving 15 years) one of the convicted lads protested his innocence,
The clerk then announced that the men were sentenced to prison for their “natural life.”
One of the defendants’ relatives shouted out, “What do you mean ‘natural life?’ ”
Another stood up crying, saying, “I love my baby,” then told the victim’s relatives, “Your people shot one of our people.”
The shouting led to slapping, led to punching, led to kicking, led to…well, you get the picture.
About a dozen court officers rushed into the melee, trying to separate the battling families. At least a half-dozen police officers, several of them homicide detectives in suits, also rushed into the fray.
Rather than preventing the sentencing, the fray led to more arrests. For example, one 17-year-old gentleman is said to have lept up from a rear seat in the courtroom, stood on top of the seat backs, and tried to strike the deceased’s relatives. He was wrestled to the ground and charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery on a public employee.
The court officers and police finally pushed the defendants’ relatives out of the courtroom and into the hallway.
The hallways, never really known for their soothing nature, was the next scene of the violence.
At its peak, about 10 non-court and law enforcement personnel were involved in the chaos.
Fortunately, extra personnel were on hand because officials had feared some kind of outburst in this case in which a young man was stabbed approximately 20 times, as well as beaten, until he was dead.
Attorney Sam’s Take:
In a way, this is a fitting sequel to yesterday’s Memorial Day blog. One usually thinks of the streets wherein the dangers to police officers and others involved in the criminal justice system. It also serves as a reminder of a point made in my various bullying blogs.
Namely, the connection between the charges for which the defendants were convicted and the behavior of their families at the difficult moment of sentencing.
Violence, like other relics and traditions, is a thing that tends to get passed down through generations. In short, children learn from behaviors we adults exhibit.
Scenes like this one are thankfully rare. However, they do happen. Seeing a loved one sentence to life, particularly when he claims to be innocent, will tend to raise emotion.
However, acting out on that emotion is not helpful. It not only aggravates the situation and might be used against said loved one during appeals and other potential motions to attack the verdict, but it often leads to new charges. Charges that are taken more seriously than usual.
For example, a disorderly charge for being loud and boisterous on the street is bad enough. A charge for the same action arising out of trying to take a swing at a court officer in court is another.
Finally, due to the serious surroundings, injuries can easily become more serious. There have been stabbings and even shootings resulting from such chaotic scenes. And, to take a more cynical view, an assailant in such circumstances is not terribly likely to succeed and get home in one piece.
Court officers, like police officers, are trained and ever-ready for violent outbursts like this one.
Take it from one who has had a client who refused to get out of his cell to face the judge carried forcefully (dragged) up stairs to the judge and has cross-examined a witness who was later found to have a razor hidden in his mouth.
On the other hand, sometimes, one can simply be present and, simply by acting in self-defense, find oneself charged. Such a case is no less serious than if you actually were guilty. You have to take your representation seriously too. The advice is the same as usual. Consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. Should you wish to consult me, please feel free to call me at 617-492-3000 .
To view the original stories upon which today’s blog was based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/05/courtroom_melee.html and http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/05/26/fight_breaks_out_in_suffolk_superior_court_after_sentencing/