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.

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

If you commit a crime in Massachusetts, you may find yourself in court, paying hefty fines, and possibly even doing time in jail or a state prison. Maybe you’re a first-time offender and your crime was an honest mistake. Maybe you have an extensive criminal record. Whatever the circumstances of your individual case, the help of a Boston criminal defense lawyer can help you determine your rights and options.

The statistics on MA crimes change from year to year, but the following criminal offenses tend to remain at the top of the list each year:

  • Assault and battery
  • Drug possession
  • OUI (multiple offenses)
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Firearms and weapons charges

Penalties for the Most Common MA Crimes

If you are charged with any of these crimes, you may face the following penalties:

  • Assault and battery: If you are convicted of assault and battery against another person, you could pay up to $1,000 in fines and serve a jail sentence of up to two-and-a-half years. If, however, the crime was committed against a child, you could face up to fifteen years in a state prison if the child was seriously harmed. Fines in cases involving children, government officials, and pregnant women may also be substantially higher.
  • Drug possession: Penalties for drug possession, as with other offenses, are largely dependent on criminal history. They are also based on the type of drug in your possession. A class A drug such as heroin, for example, carries penalties of up to $2,000 in fines and up to two years in jail. A second offense, however, may put you in a state prison for up to five years. Charges for Class B possession, including cocaine and LSD, are a bit less severe, with up to $1,000 in fines and up to one year in jail.
  • OUI: First time OUI offenders may face a license suspension of up to 90 days, fines, and jail time. Penalties for second and subsequent offenses increase dramatically. A third offense becomes a felony and comes with up to $15,000 in fines and an eight year license suspension. You may also do up to five years in a state prison for a third OUI conviction. A Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer can help you determine the best legal strategy if you are facing OUI charges.
  • Vehicular homicide: A person may be convicted of misdemeanor vehicular homicide if he or she caused a fatal motor vehicle accident while committing a misdemeanor offense (such as speeding). The penalty for misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide is up to two-and-a-half years in jail and fines of up to $3,000. If the defendant was engaged in reckless behavior (such as speeding while under the influence of drugs or alcohol), the resulting death may lead to a felony conviction. This could land you in a state prison for up to 15 years.
  • Firearms and weapons charges: Possession of an unlicensed firearm could result in a prison sentence of up to five years. Although a sentence for a first-time offender isn’t likely to be that severe, gun crimes carry a mandatory minimum sentence of eighteen months. As with other crimes, prior convictions play a significant role in the penalties you face if convicted of this crime.

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On February 21, Governor Charlie Baker filed a bill as part of an effort to reform the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. “Over half of the people leaving our Houses of Correction and state prisons wind up back in the court system at some point after their release,” Baker said. If passed, the bill will allow some inmates convicted of nonviolent drug crimes to reduce their time behind bars upon successful completion of various programs.

Gov. Baker’s bill is part of a larger initiative to reform the state’s criminal justice system. Other changes being discussed include eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and expunging criminal records for juveniles. Lawmakers are also considering increasing the age of “juveniles” from 18 to 21. The proposed bill would raise the age one year at a time over a three year period.

Will Mandatory Minimum Sentences Be Eliminated?

Should individuals convicted of nonviolent drug crimes face the same mandatory minimums as violent offenders? Some MA lawmakers have been saying no for years. “Judges ought to have the ability to look at all the facts when they do sentencing,” said Senator Cynthia Creem, D-Newton. Consulting a MA criminal defense attorney can help you determine how this new bill may impact your case.

Improved Diversion Program Opportunities for Adult Offenders

In MA, a juvenile charged with a drug crime will likely be fast-tracked into substance abuse or mental health programs, instead of to jail. However, this isn’t the case for adults. A proposed bill would permit certain young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 to have the same opportunity. The goal here is to allow young people who may have just made a mistake to move on with their lives without a criminal record. Repeat offenders wouldn’t be eligible for such a program. If you’ve been charged with a drug crime, a Boston defense attorney can help you determine if you qualify for a diversion program.

Should a Juvenile’s Criminal Record Be Expunged?

As it stands, a juvenile’s criminal record is sealed after a three year period. However, certain individuals and entities (including college admissions officers and landlords) may still be able to access this information. A bill proposed by Senator Karen Spilka, D-Ashland would allow an individual with a felony offense committed prior to age 21 to have their record expunged upon successful completion of their sentence. “Over the years, we’ve heard story after story of young adults being prevented from getting jobs or housing or scholarships from college because of a prior criminal record that happened when they were a juvenile,” said Spilka. “Kids deserve a second chance.”

Bail

Too many people spend time behind bars for minor offenses because they don’t have the funds to cover bail. A bill proposed by Senator Ken Donnelly, D-Arlington, would change the bail system from cash-based to risk-based. Essentially, bail would be set based on the the defendant’s risk of committing another crime or not showing up in court. If those risks are low, the bail may be as well. “We need to make sure people who deserve to be in (jail) are in, people who don’t deserve to be in are not in,” said Donnelly. “It shouldn’t be how much money you have.” Continue reading

In Massachusetts, if you fatally injure another person while recklessly or negligently operating a motor vehicle, you may be charged with vehicular homicide. The severity of the charges you’re facing will be largely dependent on the unique circumstances of your case. For example, if you were committing a minor, misdemeanor offense when the accident occurred – such as speeding – you will likely be charged with a misdemeanor offense. If you were intoxicated at the time, however, the charge may be elevated to a felony offense. A skilled MA criminal defense attorney can help you determine the next steps if you are facing these serious charges.

Misdemeanor Vehicular Homicide

Although serious, penalties for this charge are dramatically different from that of a felony offense. If you are charged with a misdemeanor offense, you may face the following penalties and fines:

  • Mandatory 30 days in jail
  • Up to two-and-a-half years in jail
  • Up to $3,000 in fines
  • Up to a 15 year license loss

Vehicular Homicide Involving Drugs or Alcohol

If you kill someone while driving drunk, you don’t need to have been driving recklessly to get convicted of vehicular homicide. However, fatal accidents caused by a drunk or drugged driver typically involve some level of reckless driving. If you were intoxicated and driving recklessly when the fatal accident occurred, you will likely be charged with a felony offense. The penalties for this type of crime include:

  • Mandatory one year in jail
  • Up to 15 years in a state prison
  • Up to $5,000 in fines
  • Minimum license suspension of 15 years

To secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove that you were above the legal limit at the time of the accident. If they cannot do that, beyond a reasonable doubt, a felony charge is not likely. This is where having a skilled MA OUI attorney can make all the difference in the world.

Vehicular Manslaughter

If you kill someone while driving drunk or drugged, you may also be charged with vehicular manslaughter, which is essentially the same as vehicular homicide involving drugs or alcohol, but the prison penalties are more severe. If convicted of vehicular manslaughter, you will face a mandatory five year prison sentence, and you could be behind bars for up to 20 years. Fines are also increased, at a max of up to $25,000.

As you can see, vehicular homicide and manslaughter charges are quite serious. Whether you’re in jail for 30 days or in prison for 20 years may rest largely in the skill and experience of your legal counsel. Don’t make the mistake of hiring the wrong attorney when it comes to vehicular homicide. Remember, an intent to kill is not necessary for a successful conviction. The prosecution only has to prove that your reckless or negligent driving resulted in the death of another. Continue reading

In MA, the act of stealing a vehicle may be classified as motor vehicle theft, carjacking, or joyriding. Vehicle theft is costlier than all other property crimes combined. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a total of 721,053 vehicles were stolen in 2012, accounting for a nationwide loss of $4.3 billion.

Motor vehicle Theft:

You may be charged with motor vehicle theft if you steal a vehicle or any part of a vehicle, if you intentionally damage a vehicle, or if you take control of a vehicle that you know is stolen. If you are facing charges for vehicle theft, it is in your best interest to consult with a Boston vehicle theft lawyer as soon as possible.

Assault, by itself, is a crime. But the penalties for that crime are largely dependent on the nature of the assault. You may have heard of the terms simple assault, aggravated assault, and assault & battery. What do these terms mean and what are the implications for someone facing these charges?

Simple Assault

The act of assault is committed if a person attempts to use force against another person, or even if he or she simply demonstrates an intention to use force against another. Basically, you can assault someone without ever physically touching that person, if he or she feared immediate physical harm. You can even be charged with assault if the person did not know about the intended assault. What does that mean? Well, consider the following example. If you attempt to punch someone in the back but the person bends down and you miss, you can be charged with assault even if he or she wasn’t aware of the incoming punch. If there was a  threat of harm, or the intention to harm, you may find yourself on the receiving end of an assault charge.

Assault & Battery

Although this act sounds significantly worse than “simple assault”, you can still be charged with assault & battery even if no injuries were suffered. As long as there is physical contact, without the victim’s consent, you may have committed assault & battery. In order for “battery” to be present the touching must have been intentional, harmful or offensive, and without the victim’s consent. Interestingly, intent to harm is not a prerequisite of battery charges, however, an intent to make bodily contact is. A skilled Boston assault & battery lawyer is your best defense against these very serious charges.

Aggravated Assault

When “aggravating” factors are present during an assault on a victim, the charge may be raised to aggravated assault. What is an aggravating circumstance? Basically, if a weapon is used, if the victim is a law enforcement officer, or if the victim suffered serious injuries, you will likely be charged with aggravated assault. You can also face aggravated assault charges if the injuries suffered were not serious, but the intent to cause serious injury can be shown. If you are facing aggravated assault charges, it is imperative that you seek the counsel of an experienced MA aggravated assault lawyer immediately.

Penalties for Different Types of Assault

Simple assault and assault & battery are generally considered to be misdemeanor offenses. If, however, you are facing the more serious charge of aggravated assault, you may be looking at felony charges.

  • Assault and assault & battery are both punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and up to two-and-a-half years in jail.
  • Assault that causes bodily injury to a child is punishable by up to five years in prison. If the bodily injury is substantial, the punishment can be up to 15 years in prison.
  • Committing assault & battery against a firefighter or a police officer is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
  • An act of assault with the intent to murder, disfigure, or commit a felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

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Court records are public domain. Essentially that means that anyone with a few bucks to spend can access your criminal record, arrests, and even your mug shot. An expungement is a process in Massachusetts whereby these records are sealed. Although criminal records are not erased, they become inaccessible to the public, which includes potential employers and landlords. Read on for more information about expungements, if you are eligible to have a prior conviction or arrest expunged, and how to accomplish this liberating task.

If you were arrested but found not guilty, an expungement is a relatively easy process. You can file for an expungement, which will prevent the record of your arrest from being viewed by the public. It will also prevent the record from showing up in an employment or housing background check. If you were convicted, however, things get a bit more complicated. If you have been charged with a crime, contact a MA defense attorney today.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony

If the conviction was for a misdemeanor offense, you can file for an expungement once five years have passed without another conviction. Basically, your record has to remain spotless. If you were convicted of a felony, however, the “spotless record” period increases to 10 years. And much is dependent on the underlying offense. If you were convicted of an OUI, the likelihood of an expungement is good. If it was a sexual offense, you must wait at least 15 years and the process becomes extremely complex. If you are considering getting a felony offense expunged from your record, contact a Boston criminal defense lawyer today.

The Process

Clearing your record of prior arrests and convictions can have an immensely positive impact on your life. No longer will you be filled with anxiety every time you apply for a job, housing, or even a loan. A positive outcome calls for experienced legal counsel. In theory, you can apply for an expungement on your own, but it is highly inadvisable. A minor error can be the difference between a clean record and a mistake that continues to haunt you for years.

Step one is to file a “Petition to Seal” with the District Court from which the case originated. This can include documents that support your petition, including disadvantages arising from public access to your record, evidence of rehabilitation, and other relevant evidence and circumstances. The next steps include:

  • Preliminary review of your petition: Once filed, the District Court judge will begin to review your petition. If you meet the preliminary requirements for expungement, you will be notified of a court hearing date. If you do not meet the preliminary requirements, you will be notified in writing.
  • Hearing: The purpose of the hearing is to give you an opportunity to tell the court why your record should be expunged. If you hire an attorney, in addition to filing all paperwork above, he or she can speak on your behalf at the hearing.
  • Decision: At the conclusion of your hearing, you will either be given an immediate decision or the judge will take the case under advisement. If the latter, you will be notified by mail of the final decision.
  • Appeals: If the initial decision is not favorable, you can appeal with the MA Appeals Court.

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Most parents understand that it is illegal to provide minors with alcohol, even at a well-controlled, responsible party held at their home. Of course, some still choose to do it. But what if kids consume alcohol in your home without your knowledge? Can you still get in trouble? If you ask Stanford Professor Bill Burnett, who was arrested on 44 counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors in 2012, he would likely give you a resounding yes. Burnett and his wife claim to have provided chips and soda for the kids before going to bed only to be woken up hours later when cops responded to a complaint of underage drinking.

Although Burnett claims to have told his son that absolutely no alcohol was permitted, he was charged under social host laws for each of the 44 teens in attendance at his son’s party that night. Each charge was a misdemeanor offense with penalties of jail time and up to $2,000 in fines. About 18 states have social host liability laws, and Massachusetts is one of them. Social host laws prohibit serving or providing access to alcohol to minors, but simply being present in a home where minors are imbibing – even if you are unaware – may result in legal consequences. In fact, parents may even face criminal charges if they weren’t home during an alcohol-infused teen party. If you are facing charges for providing alcohol to a minor, contact a Boston criminal defense lawyer today.

As stated in Massachusetts General Law Chapter 138 section 34:

In most cases, a bench warrant has to be taken care of in person. If you moved to California to avoid another New England winter, you will still have to come back to MA if this is where the warrant was issued. There are some exceptions, but navigating this complex process requires the assistance of a skilled defense attorney.

In certain situations, a lawyer can go to court on your behalf. This is especially true if the lawyer has a good reputation with the court. Several factors will be considered before such an exception is allowed, however. For starters, if the warrant is for a felony, you will almost certainly have to appear in person. If, on the other hand, the warrant is for something minor, such as failing to pay a fine, the warrant may be dismissed once full payment is received. In misdemeanor cases, an out of state client may hire an attorney to stand in for court proceedings. However, as explained above, this will only be approved under certain conditions.

Arrest Warrants

Although crime in Boston is reportedly down, murders were up in 2016. There were a total of 47 homicides in Boston last year, which is nine more than 2015. The first homicide of last year was a 16-year-old teen who was shot and attacked with a machete in East Boston. Sadly, he was the third teen to be murdered in that neighborhood in only four months. According to police, all three deaths were part of an initiation for the MS-13 street gang. Suspects are currently awaiting trial.

According to Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, the police department has been cracking down on violent gang activity. “Our No. 1 priority is taking guns off the street and taking the violence out of our communities,” said Evans. “Operation Wolfgang” is a joint effort among federal, state and local law enforcement to seize drugs, cash, and guns and clear the streets of a drug ring known as the Mozart Street Gang.

46 People Overdose Every Day in the US

According to Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, the arrests of nearly three dozen traffickers will save lives. “Traffickers like these, not only do they rob, shoot and even kill their business rivals and innocents who get caught in the crossfire, they’re responsible for the overdoses that claim three times more lives in Massachusetts than handguns and motor vehicles combined,” said Conley. According to FBI Special Agent Harold Shaw, “Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death in the United States, claiming the lives of 46 people every day.” These arrests are also likely to make a dent in the amount of heroin passing through Boston’s city, and suburban, streets. If you are facing charges for any type of criminal offense, contact a Boston defense lawyer today.

Shannon Grants

MA has awarded $5.7 million in grant funds to support the efforts of law enforcement to clear the streets of gang violence. According to Gov. Charlie Baker, the funds will be distributed to more than a dozen organizations and communities in the Boston area. Part of this funding goes to providing at-risk youth with education and employment opportunities. The hope is that these opportunities will be a welcome alternative for kids who may have otherwise gotten involved with gangs. The so-called “Shannon Grants” are named for Charles Shannon, a police officer who later became a Senator. The cities receiving funding are Boston, Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Springfield and Taunton. If you have been charged with a crime, contact a MA defense lawyer today.

Gang violence is a problem in Boston, but sometimes people are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you are charged with a gang-related crime by association when you did nothing wrong, you will need the assistance of a skilled defense lawyer to avoid getting locked up and paying hefty fines. In some cases, simply being photographed with a person who is flashing a gang sign can be enough to convict you of crime by association.   Continue reading

The answer to this question is, it depends on the circumstances. A secret purchase made by one person to obtain a firearm for someone who cannot own a weapon is illegal. This is known as a straw purchase. If the person for whom the gun is being purchased is not disclosed to the seller, the seller is not able to run a background check for the intended owner. As background checks are an important component of the purchasing process, the straw purchase is a big no-no. Guns are dangerous weapons, and trying to evade the rules of ownership can put you behind bars.

But What About Gifts?

Straw purchases are illegal, yes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always illegal to buy a gun for another person. Let’s say I want to buy a gun for my husband, as a gift. I can do this…but I have to follow guidelines set forth by the law. In Massachusetts, residents are required to report any sale or transfer of a weapon within seven days of the sale or transfer. This applies to gifts as well. Yes, you can purchase a gun as a gift for another person. No, you cannot purchase a gun for someone that you know cannot legally own a gun. In fact, doing so is a federal felony. Even if you didn’t know, but should have known, you can be in hot water. If you’re not 100% confident that the intended recipient can legally own a gun, play it safe. You can always go to a gun retailer, purchase a gift certificate, and give that as the gift.

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