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Articles Posted in Criminal Law

A California man has become the second affluent parent to be sentenced to serve jail time in relation to a wide-reaching fraud case involving college admissions. Devin Sloane, CEO of a Los Angeles water and wastewater treatment facility, was sentenced to serve four months, plus two years of supervised release, complete 500 hours of community service and pay a $95,000 fine in federal court in Boston on Sept. 24. He originally plead guilty to his charges in May.

Sloane is the second parent, the first being actress Felicity Huffman – who received a two-week prison sentence earlier in September – to be convicted of making fraudulent claims to a high-profile university as part of a scheme to get their children accepted into the school. A third parent, a Chinese foreign national, was also indicted on the same day of Sloane’s sentencing for allegedly paying $400,000 to get her son admitted into UCLA as a soccer recruit, despite never playing the sport competitively.

In Sloane’s case, not only did he knowingly defraud the University of Southern California (USC), he also lied to government officials at the IRS and directly conspired with the scheme’s admitted mastermind, William Singer, who is also awaiting trial. In total, there are 52 current defendants charged in connection with the college admissions scandal.

The Sloane case demonstrates another example of a wealthy parent utilizing outright fraud to trick a university into granting admission to their child. Sloane, according to federal prosecutors, took multiple steps to fraud USC into believing that his son was an aspiring water polo star, despite his son never playing the sport. He went so far as to purchase water polo equipment online, staged a fake photoshoot of his son playing the sport in their family pool, and then went so far as to hire a graphic design team to alter the photos to make it appear as though he were playing competitively.

The brazenness of Sloane’s case goes farther, as he paid $250,000 in a direct bribe to compromised USC officials to facilitate the fraud. When high school counselors of Sloane’s son – who knew he had never played the sport at any level – questioned how he was being recruited to play the sport at a collegiate competitive level, Sloane reportedly exhibited anger that he should even be questioned. Sloane would also cover up his bribe to USC by reporting it as a donation from his mother, who is deceased. Continue reading

A hate crime is defined as a prejudice or bias-motivated crime that occurs when a victim is targeted because of his or her membership in a particular race or social group. Even if the victim does not actually belong to that group, the act can be classified as a hate crime if such “membership” was perceived. Perpetrators of hate crimes often target an individual based on gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, or religion. This is not, however, an exhaustive list.

Hate crimes and hate speech are distinctly different. Whereas hate speech is criminalized in and of itself, hate crimes involve a crime that exists even without the bias or prejudice but is elevated due to its prejudiced nature. For example, assault is a crime, but if a white Christian man assaults a black Muslim man, it may be classified as a hate crime.

According to a report released by the FBI on Tuesday, hate crimes are on the rise in MA. In fact, this type of criminal act increased by eight-percent from 2016 to 2017.

In January 2017, the bodies of 32-year-old Jenna Pellegrini and 48-year-old Christine Sullivan were found under a backyard tarp at a home in Farmington, New Hampshire. Each woman had suffered multiple stab wounds. Among the evidence collected at the home was an Amazon Echo smart speaker (commonly referred to as Alexa), which the prosecution believes may have recorded crucial sounds during at least one of the murders.

Last week, a spokesperson for Amazon said that the retail giant will not release information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.” But it looks like that information will soon be on its way. Amazon was ordered by Judge Steven Houran to release all recordings, as well as any relevant data, such as whether anyone’s phone was linked to the Echo device. A Boston criminal defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a crime.

“The court directs Amazon.com to produce forthwith to the court any recordings made by an Echo smart speaker with Alexa voice command capability,” wrote Judge Houran, “from the period of January 27, 2017 to January 29, 2017, as well as any information identifying cellular devices that were paired to that smart speaker during that time period.”

Timothy Verrill was arrested and charged with the murders of Pellegrini and Sullivan. Verrill, an acquaintance of Sullivan’s boyfriend, pleaded not guilty to the double murder charges. According to surveillance video, he knew the home’s security code and had been there with both women prior to the night of the murder. Investigators believe that Alexa may have been activated by “wake words” or someone saying “Alexa” from its location in the kitchen, where they believe Sullivan’s murder was committed.

The involvement of tech in criminal cases is quickly becoming commonplace. In October, a Fitbit  contributed to a murder suspect’s arrest, and Amazon had to produce data from another Echo device in a 2015 murder investigation in Bentonville, Arkansas. Although Amazon argued its First Amendment rights in that case, the defendant consented to the release of data. A MA criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a crime.

Privacy vs. Information

Amazon also attempted to avoid this most recent request, saying it was in violation of customer privacy, but Judge Houran disagreed. The argument of privacy vs. information isn’t expected to disappear any time soon. In fact, in a world where nothing is considered to be of value unless it’s recorded and/or shared, the battle has likely only just begun.

Smart devices, such as Alexa, Siri and Google’s Home assistant, are in millions of homes across the country. In addition to playing music and answering questions—such as what’s the weather today and who was the first female supreme court justice—smart devices record what people say. And that recording doesn’t just disappear into the ether. It is sent to a server, where it is…well, we can’t answer that for certain. What is happening to these recordings, and who is listening to our most intimate conversations?

I guess the better question is, what is your privacy worth to you? Continue reading

In early September, a gas pressure issue in Columbia Gas lines caused 131 Massachusetts homes to explode or catch fire. The tragedy resulted in one death and 23 injuries. Homes and businesses were destroyed, thousands had to be evacuated, and—more than a month later—many victims remain homeless, or without heat. Columbia Gas and its parent company Nisource Inc. have understandably faced heavy criticism from the victims and the general public. But the situation stands to become even more complicated.

A federal grand jury served Nisource with subpoenas on September 24, just two weeks after the explosions. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also conducting an investigation. A Boston injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to the negligence of another.

Further information about the nature of the investigation is as yet unavailable, and a spokesman for the company declined to answer questions Thursday.

“We are cooperating with all investigations and inquiries into the Lawrence event, including the criminal matter. However, we can’t speak specifically to any of those inquiries,” said NiSource spokesman Ken Stammen.

But Why is it Criminal?

According to the NTSB, Columbia Gas workers, who were tasked with replacing old pipes in Lawrence, were given bad work orders by the company. The orders failed to acknowledge the existence of a pressure-sensing feedback line, which resulted in high-pressure gas being pumped into the system, and the subsequent explosions.

“We’re sharing information we think is of interest that investors need to know about,” said Ken Stammen, a Nisource spokesperson. “Beyond that, there are limitations around what we can say about investigations.”

Leonel Rondon, an 18-year-old Lawrence man was killed in the September 13 explosions and many more were injured.

“I think it’s appropriate and right to do,” said Dan Rivera, Lawrence Mayor, when asked about the criminal investigation. “A young man lost his life and the city was turned upside down.”

Nisource Linked to Three Previous Explosions

Considering Nisource’s history, such a deadly error is even more disturbing. The company is linked to three prior gas explosions.

  • In November 2012, a Columbia Gas of Massachusetts explosion destroyed the Scores strip club in Springfield, MA and injured 21. About a dozen nearby buildings were also damaged.
  • In December 2012, a gas pipeline operated by Columbia Gas Transmission exploded in Sissonville, West Virginia, destroying three homes and propelling a 20-foot section of pipe through the air.
  • In March 2015, an “improperly abandoned” Columbia Gas of Ohio service line exploded, causing $9 million in structural damage.

Many of Nation’s Oldest and Leakiest Pipes are in Boston

A recently-published USA TODAY report reveals that tens of thousands of miles of old pipelines need upgraded across the country. Many of these are in Boston and the surrounding suburbs, which have some of the nation’s oldest and leakiest pipes. This “silent danger” has caused a general sense of alarm among MA residents, but Nisource President Joseph Hamrock says that they are working hard to resolve the problem.

“This tragic event has been a humbling experience for all of us at Nisource and Columbia Gas,” said Hamrock. “We realized that much work lies ahead of us to finish our service restoration in Greater Lawrence, and regain the trust of our customers and the communities we serve.”

According to Nisource, approximately 8,500 gas meters had to be shut down for service following the explosions. About 700 of those belonged to area businesses. A MA injury attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

Columbia Gas initially reported that the thousands of customers impacted would have gas by November 19, but they updated that date to December 16, last week.

Insurance Payments Will Cover Most of Nisource’s Expenses

Although the September tragedy has already cost Nisource about $462 million, most of those expenses will be “substantially recovered” through the utility company’s insurance policy, which has a limit of about $800 million. The $462 million accounts for approximately $415 million in personal injury and property damage expenses, and the remainder will be payments to utility companies that helped with the restoration project. In addition to the criminal investigation, Nisource will likely face civil suits from victims of the explosion. Continue reading

Assault and Battery are common crimes in Massachusetts, whether together or as stand-alone offenses. But most people don’t really understand the conduct behind each of these crimes. It is common for someone to refer to a certain act as an assault, when they really mean battery, and vice versa.

Assault and Battery Distinguished

Assault is an act that creates a fear of imminent, harmful, or offensive conduct. Battery is the crime that occurs when the harmful or offensive conduct is carried out. The key distinction between the two crimes is that for battery, there has to be a touching. If there is no touching, but the victim is in fear of a touching, that crime is an assault. For example, if a person attempts to punch another person, but misses, he/she may be charged with assault. If there is a touching (the punch lands), the charge will likely be battery.

In MA, a second offense for operating under the influence (OUI), also known as drunk driving, has serious consequences that can impact you and your family. As explained below, these penalties include substantial fines, loss of license, and even time behind bars.

If you have been charged with a second offense OUI, you may be feeling scared and alone. But you are not alone. OUI is the most common charge in Massachusetts courts, and we are here to help. The good news? As long as no one was injured as a result of the OUI, a second offense will be charged as a misdemeanor. If, however, your offense involved an injury accident, you may be facing felony charges. The information below may help you make the best decision for you and your family.

What Counts as a First OUI?

New Sealing and Expungement in Massachusetts – Effective October 1st, 2018.

The sealing and expungement laws in Massachusetts have been revamped and will be taking effect on October 1, 2018.  While the procedures, time lines and nuances have yet to be worked out, there is a lot that is clear and known.

Prior to October 1, 2018, in order to have a felony conviction sealed, one would have to wait 10 years from his guilty finding and/or from when he was released from prison or jail.  The new law will change that waiting period from 10 years to 7 years.

In an effort to protect individuals from abusive situations, MA courts have been given the authority to issue restraining orders when a reasonable likelihood of harm is suspected. In many ways, this is a very good thing. No woman, or man, should be subjected to abuse. However, such broad authority to grant restraining orders also results in excessive issuance; some even use the system as a means of revenge.

A restraining order, or protection order (officially known as a 209A), is issued through civil court, not criminal. As such, a “preponderance of evidence” is all that is needed to meet the burden of proof for obtaining the 209A. In criminal cases, the burden of proof must be “beyond any reasonable doubt,” which is a far higher standard than a preponderance of evidence. If the judge believes that the evidence presented points to a likelihood that the alleged abuser will harm the petitioner, he/she will typically initiate the process.

What is a 10-Day Hearing?

The next step in the process is usually the 10-day hearing, at which point the defendant will have an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. During the 10-day window between the petition and the hearing, the defendant will receive notice of the upcoming hearing. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if there is a restraining order against you.

Temporary Order of Protection

The accused has a right to defend himself/herself at the 10-day hearing, but in cases involving imminent risk of abuse, the 10-day window could put the alleged victim in danger. A temporary (or emergency) order may be issued if the judge believes the petitioner is at risk of immediate harm. Emergency orders are actually relatively easy to obtain, as long as the alleged victim can prove a relationship with the alleged abuser. A private hearing will be held at which the petitioner states his/her reasons for requesting the temporary order. Because the person accused of abuse is not present at this private hearing, he/she won’t know about the restraining order until it’s served on them.

Do Not Go to the 10-Day Hearing Alone

Whether or not a temporary order was issued against you, it is a mistake to appear in defense of yourself at the 10-day hearing. An experienced MA defense lawyer can present evidence to the judge, perform cross-examinations, and even request that the order be dropped altogether. Not showing up for your 10-day hearing is the worst possible mistake you can make. By doing this, you will forfeit your right to defend your case, and the order will remain in effect for at least one year. If, however, you appear in court with skilled legal counsel and can prove to the judge that you do not present a reasonable threat to the alleged victim, the order will likely be vacated.

What Restrictions Might a 209A Include?

The specific orders of protection within a 209A vary based on the particulars of each case. They may include:

  • an order to leave the residence immediately;
  • an order to stop all forms of abuse;
  • an order to stay a certain distance from the alleged victim at all times;
  • an order to stay away from the children.

In addition to the possible orders of protection above, all 209As carry a mandatory order to surrender firearms. Continue reading

Facing a Malicious Damage Charge in MA?

Any type of property damage—from vandalism and graffiti to hitting another’s property with your car—can result in a criminal charge for malicious damage. As with most crimes, penalties for malicious damage are largely dependent on the circumstances of the case, the severity of the offense, and whether or not you have a prior criminal record.

What are the Penalties?

Penalties for malicious damage vary widely based on whether you acted deliberately or carelessly. Willful and malicious actions can carry a potential sentence of up to two-and-a-half years in jail and fines of up to three times the cost of the damage or $3,000, whichever is greater. If, on the other hand, you acted carelessly or wantonly, you may be facing a penalty of up to two-and-a-half years in jail and fines of up to three times the cost of the damage or $1,500, whichever is greater. Damage of less than $250 is punished much less severely, but can still land you in jail for up to two-and-a-half months.

Leaving the Scene

Let’s say you are driving one night when you hit and knock down a stop sign. Having just left a bar, you’re worried that you might be over the legal limit, so you leave the scene of the accident. Another driver gets your license plate number and reports the incident. You might end up facing two criminal charges—one for malicious damage and one for leaving the scene of property damage. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with any type of crime.

Can Malicious Destruction to Property be a Felony?

If you damage or vandalize certain types of property in MA, you may face felony charges. These specific buildings or locations have special protections due to their sacred or sensitive natures. If you destroy or deface any of the property below, you may be charged with a felony:

  • Church
  • Synagogue
  • Mosque
  • Any house of worship
  • Cemetery or any type of burial ground
  • Memorial
  • School
  • Community center
  • Educational institution

In addition, if you cause more than $5,000 of damage to any of the above properties, you may face up to five years in prison. At less than $5,000, the potential penalties are up to two-and-a-half years in jail and fines of up to three times the cost of the damage or $2,000, whichever is greater. A MA criminal defense lawyer can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with malicious damage or another crime.

What About Graffiti?

Even as graffiti becomes more accepted and celebrated as a form of art, intentionally making graffiti on another’s property remains a criminal offense. Property can include walls, fences, signs, monuments, or buildings. It even includes rocks. Graffiti, also known as defacement of property, carries a potential penalty of up to three years in jail, and up to three times the cost of the damage or $1,500, whichever is greater. A defacement of property conviction may also lead to a one-year license suspension. Continue reading

Since 2010, it has been illegal to text while driving in MA. And although drivers in MA were still permitted to talk on their cell phones for the next six years, a complete ban on the use of hand-held devices while driving was passed in 2016. The ban not only applies to cell phones; drivers are prohibited from entering information into a GPS, or any other hand-held device.

Currently, the fines for violating this law are $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense, and $500 for the third offense.

“Although traffic accidents and deaths are dropping, the number of accidents that are caused involving cell phones are going up,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “A lot of people’s lives are being put in danger as a result of people who are using their cell phones, and it’s just time to sweep that source of problem off the table here.”

And make no mistake, police are enforcing these laws. A MA motor vehicle accident attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

Fines Aren’t the Only Potential Consequence of Texting While Driving

Getting stopped for texting while driving often leads to other violations of safe driving laws. In fact, this is a likely motivation for police to stop a driver that they suspect of texting. The distracted driver might also be intoxicated, driving recklessly, or in possession of drugs or an illegal firearm. Other potential consequences of texting while driving include:

  • An increase in insurance premiums. Many insurance carriers use points for texting while driving to raise premiums.
  • Criminal penalties. If texting while driving leads to serious injury or death, the driver may face criminal charges.
  • A guilty conscience. Just think about the guilt you would feel if someone was seriously injured or killed while you were texting something as insignificant as “see you soon.”

Texting while driving can be devastating for everyone involved. A Boston car accident lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

Distracted Driving Statistics

Hundreds of thousands of people are injured in distracted-driving accidents in the United States each year. The statistics below illustrate the severity of this growing problem.

  • According to the National Safety Council, 1.6 million annual crashes involve cell phone use.
  • Texting while driving leads to 390,000 injuries annually.
  • One out of every four motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. involves texting.
  • You are six times more likely to have an accident due to texting than driving drunk.
  • Responding to a text typically diverts your attention from the road for at least five seconds.
  • Texting is the most dangerous of all cellphone-related activities.
  • According to a AAA poll, 35% of teens admit to texting while driving, even though 94 percent acknowledge it’s dangerous.
  • In 21 percent of fatal teen driving accidents, a cell phone was involved.
  • Teens are four times more likely than their adult counterparts to get into texting-related accidents.

Continue reading

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