Dominick Cristino is a free man. Nearly two years since he was sentenced to up to two-and-a-half years in prison for stalking Milford’s police chief, the MA man’s convictions have been vacated. In addition to physically following the police chief he was convicted of stalking, Cristino also posted various “threatening comments” on Facebook. He was released in April, pending his appeal, and three Appeals Court judges made that release permanent last Friday.
Prosecutors alleged that Cristino’s comments were “true threats” and thus, not constitutionally-protected remarks. Initially, Cristino’s motion for a required finding of not guilty was denied by Superior Court Judge Daniel M. Wrenn. He ruled that “there was clear evidence to establish that these were true threats rather than protected speech under the First Amendment.” But the appeals court disagreed.
“We conclude that the statements made by the defendant that were the basis for his convictions were constitutionally protected speech, and therefore could not be the basis for conviction,” ruled the court. They went on to say that the First Amendment protects political remarks made about public officials. In fact, these types of comments are at the First Amendment’s core. A MA defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you are facing stalking charges.
Cristino’s Facebook posts were highly critical of both heads of the Milford police department, accusing them of everything from alcohol abuse and inappropriate relationships with criminals, to outright corruption. Cristino also painted critical messages on his truck, posted signs on his property, and followed the police chief throughout town, often driving past establishments frequented by the police chiefs.
While the Appeals Court did say that Cristino’s comments could be considered threats on their own, together they do not constitute stalking. “True threats” are direct threats of physical harm, actions, or words, that reasonably cause the victim to fear for his or her safety.
In an unpublished decision, the Appeals Court panel wrote the following:
“Having reviewed the Facebook postings that were the grounds for the defendant’s convictions and having considered the context of the videos, we conclude that they did not constitute threats of the kinds of unlawful acts of violence that render speech unprotected.”
“Rather, the defendant’s posts ‘primarily discuss issues of public concern,’ as they are clearly directed at exposing what the defendant considered to be shortcomings in the chief’s and deputy chief’s ability to properly perform their public positions,” ruled the court. “In accusing the chief and deputy chief of drinking on the job, spending time with known local criminals, and generally being corrupt, the defendant’s videos were obviously attacking their capacity to effectively serve as police officers.”
What are the Penalties for Stalking in MA?
Stalking crimes are punished harshly in MA. If you have been convicted of stalking, you may be facing the following penalties:
- First offense: Up to five years in prison, and a fine of up to $1,000
- Second offense: Up to 10 years in prison
As with all criminal offenses, experienced legal counsel is essential to a positive outcome. A Boston defense attorney can help you determine how to protect your rights if you’ve been charged with stalking. We often think of a stalker as a man who follows his female victim home at night and lurks outside her window. Although this is one example of stalking, this criminal act can take many forms and affects both men and women. Stalking can include physical following, emails, phone calls, and social media posts. And it’s quite common; about 6.6 million people are stalked in the U.S. annually. Continue reading