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.

In the past, arson referred to the crime of burning someone else’s home or property while the structure was occupied. It was intended to protect the lives of anyone who happened to be inside the burning structure. However, the modern definition of arson is quite different. Today, the property being burned no longer has to be a home with people inside. It doesn’t even need to be a structure. Burning another’s land, vehicle, or other personal property without their permission is an act of arson.

To prove arson, the prosecution must be able to show that you intended to burn the property, and that you acted without permission. Intention is important, because accidentally burning someone else’s property does not constitute arson. If you purposefully set fire to a neighbor’s fields, this is arson. If the fire was accidental, it is not. In some cases, reckless behavior that results in the burning of another’s property may lead to arson charges.

You can also be charged with arson for setting fire to your own property, but only under certain circumstances. The act must be committed for fraudulent purposes. If you purposely burn down a dilapidated shed on your property, this is not arson. But if you burn down your garage to collect insurance funds, this is arson. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with arson or any other crime.

Penalties for Arson in MA

As with any crime, the penalties for arson are largely dependent on the severity of the crime, and prior criminal history. Arson can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on several factors. Felony arson generally involves setting fire to a home or dwelling while people are inside. If convicted of arson in MA, you may be facing:

  • Up to one year in jail, for misdemeanor offenses.
  • A prison sentence of between one and 20 years, for felony convictions.
  • Up to life in prison, if the crime was intended to kill or harm occupants of a dwelling.
  • Fines of between a few thousand dollars and fifty-thousand dollars, or more.
  • Restitution (a financial payment intended to compensate victims for any damages suffered).
  • A probation sentence of at least 12 months, and up to five years.

Section 111A of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266 holds that:

Anyone who intends to injure, defraud or deceive any insurance company shall be punished with a prison sentence of not more than five years, or by imprisonment in jail for not less than six months and not more than two-and-a-half years, or by a fine of at least $500 and not more than $10,000. A MA defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with arson. Continue reading

Stalking and harassment crimes generally involve two people who know each other, often intimately. For this reason, when a person is facing charges for stalking or criminal harassment, he may have been unaware that his behavior had crossed into criminal territory. If you feel jealous or betrayed, you may act out of character. But when these actions cause another to suffer emotional distress, you might find yourself behind bars.

Elements of Stalking

To justify a stalking conviction, the following circumstances must have been present:

  • The defendant acted willfully and maliciously.
  • The defendant knowingly engaged in a series of acts.
  • The acts were directed at a specific person.
  • The acts caused that person to experience serious alarm.
  • The acts would have caused any reasonable person to suffer emotional distress.

Stalking can be done in person, over the phone, or through any mode of communication, including email, text and social media, or even by fax. When stalking occurs over electronic channels, it is known as cyber stalking. A MA defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with stalking or criminal harassment.

Stalking Doesn’t Always Start as a Criminal Act

Stalking and harassment typically originate from less-threatening behaviors. Take the following scenario as an example: Gretchen ends her relationship with Tim. She just doesn’t feel the same way about him anymore, and – honestly – she’s been seeing another guy. Tim sends a text to Gretchen, asking her to reconsider. He knows about Jack and forgives her for her infidelity. “Let’s just start over,” he pleads. Tim doesn’t hear back from Gretchen, so he sends a lengthy email apologizing for all the things he did wrong during their relationship, and a voice mail asking her to have dinner with him to discuss and “patch things up.” Although Tim’s communications were directed at a specific person, and occurred in a series, they weren’t malicious, and they probably didn’t cause Gretchen any serious alarm.

But several days pass and Tim doesn’t hear from Gretchen. He starts to get angry. He fires off more emails and texts, but this time he accuses Gretchen of being the reason for all of their problems. He even starts calling her nasty names. Gretchen still doesn’t respond. On day three, Tim can’t take the silence anymore. How can she just ignore him, just toss him out like a bag of garbage – after everything he has done for her! In his blinding anger, Tim begins to send threatening messages. He tells Gretchen that if she doesn’t call him back soon, he’s going to kill Jack. Tim begins visiting Jack’s place of employment. He doesn’t do anything serious – just sits in his car and watches Jack eat lunch. He knows Jack sees him, and hopes the home wrecker gets the point. A few days later, the police show up at Tim’s house, arresting him on stalking charges. Continue reading

A San Francisco burglar just received a 327-year sentence for wreaking havoc on the city’s elderly residents. In 2014, German Woods began his criminal spree of home invasions and robberies. The 60-year-old burglar targeted vulnerable senior citizens who lived alone. He would hide in the shadows, attacking as they entered their homes. Many of the seniors spoke very little English, or none at all. In 2016, Woods was convicted on multiple charges, including some for elder abuse.

Consecutive Sentencing vs. Concurrent Sentencing

In the case above, Woods was charged on 17 counts, including burglary, robbery, and elder abuse. Each of these counts carries its own sentence. When a judge decides that a convict must serve multiple count sentences consecutively, each sentence is added to the next. This is how Woods ended up with a 327-year sentence. If, on the other hand, a judge decides on a concurrent sentence, all of the separate sentences will be served simultaneously. A Boston defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with burglary.

Burglary Penalties in MA

In MA, burglary is loosely defined as unlawful entry into a structure with the intent to commit a felony. Although theft is not necessary to justify a burglary charge, it is a common element of the crime. As with most crimes, the penalties for burglary depend largely on the underlying circumstances, prior criminal history, and the severity of the offense. For example, someone who enters a home for the sole purpose of trespassing will likely receive a lesser punishment than someone who enters a home, ties up the occupants, and steals valuable jewelry. If you are convicted of burglary in MA, you may face the following penalties:

  • Burglary: This crime is a felony offense and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. If it’s a first offense and no one was home at the time of the burglary, the sentence will generally be less severe. A second offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.
  • Armed burglary: Burglarizing an occupied home with a weapon in your possession carries a 15-year minimum sentence for a first offense.
  • Burglary with assault: Assault doesn’t require the use of a weapon. In fact, you don’t even have to physically harm someone to commit assault. Simply causing another to fear for their safety is enough to justify an assault charge. Burglary with assault carries a 10-year minimum sentence for a first offense.
  • Home invasion: This offense is similar to burglary in that it requires unlawful entry into a structure with the intent to commit a felony. However, to be considered a home invasion, the crime had to occur at night, in a home, and the defendant had to be armed, know someone was at home, and use force or threats. The penalty for home invasion is a minimum sentence of 20 years, and up to life in prison.

Remember, you don’t have to kick down a door to commit burglary. Burglary can be the simple act of unlawfully entering a structure, even if that means opening an unlocked door and stepping inside. A MA criminal defense attorney can protect your rights if you’ve been charged with burglary or any other crime. Continue reading

Commonly referred to as “hit and run,” leaving the scene of an accident is a criminal offense in MA. As with most crimes, the penalties depend largely on the particulars of the case, the severity of the accident, and prior criminal history.

Consider the following scenarios: Sue runs into her neighbor’s mailbox because she was texting while driving. She’s not intoxicated, and she doesn’t have a criminal record. But she leaves the scene because it’s late at night and she’s too embarrassed to admit her mistake. Sue may be charged with leaving the scene of an accident, but her penalties will likely be minor. Gretchen, on the other hand, hits a pedestrian while driving drunk, breaking the victim’s leg and shoulder. Gretchen has an extensive criminal record. Chances are, her outcome won’t be nearly as pleasant.

Penalties for Leaving the Scene (No Injuries)

In MA, leaving the scene of an accident is loosely defined as failing to stop after a collision to contact the police or exchange information with the other parties involved. At it’s most basic, leaving the scene is a misdemeanor offense. If convicted of this offense, you may face the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $200
  • Up to two years in jail
  • A minimum license suspension of 60 days with a maximum suspension of one year

But what if the accident was so minor you didn’t even know it had occurred? If you were unaware of the damage, how could you have known to stop and exchange information? While a smashed mailbox would be hard to miss, it is common for minor accidents to be overlooked when it’s dark outside, or due to distractions or loud music.

Penalties for Leaving the Scene (Injuries)

Things get much more complicated if you leave the scene of an injury accident. When you leave the scene of an accident that resulted in injury to another, you will be looking at a mandatory minimum sentence. Penalties for this crime may include:

  • A minimum of six months in jail, with a maximum of two years
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • A minimum license suspension of one year, up to indefinite
  • Subsequent convictions carry a minimum two year license suspension

A skilled Boston criminal defense lawyer can help you get your penalties reduced or dismissed entirely. In some cases, you can avoid a conviction by working out a payment arrangement to compensate the victim for medical bills and any other expenses associated with the accident. Continue reading

Having a criminal record can make life extremely difficult. Getting the job or house you want with a felony, or even a misdemeanor, can be impossible. When a person is facing criminal charges, he or she may plead guilty to a lesser charge simply to get the uncomfortable process over with. This makes sense, criminal prosecution is rarely a pleasant process. But considering the consequences of having a record, doing everything possible to avoid one is in your best interest.

Felonies vs. Misdemeanors

In Massachusetts, a felony conviction will likely result in difficulty finding future employment and in the inability to vote. Certain jobs, including some in the state and federal sectors, will be completely off-limits to someone with a felony conviction. And if you’ve been convicted of a sex offense, forget about working in the school system. School districts simply do not hire people with sex offense-related convictions. For these reasons, among others, it is crucial that you hire experienced legal counsel if you are facing felony charges. A skilled MA criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you have been charged with a felony offense.

Although not as serious as felonies, misdemeanors can still have a negative impact on an individual’s ability to obtain housing and employment, and can even impact auto insurance rates and credit score. Young people are most vulnerable to the consequences of a criminal record. A conviction can effectively ruin a young person’s life. When a 22-year-old college student receives a felony conviction for a hazing-related offense, for example, his life will likely take an entirely different course. And this change in course is rarely a good one. For non-U.S. citizens, any type of conviction can be devastating; even a misdemeanor can lead to deportation or denial of re-entry into the U.S.

Public Disclosure

Keep in mind that criminal convictions are public information. The harm to your reputation and rights can be the most difficult pill to swallow. Someone with a felony conviction will never be able to possess a firearm or even to serve on a jury. If you were convicted of a sex crime in MA, you will also need to register as a sex offender. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights and reputation if you’ve been charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense.

What is Expungement?

The process of expungement basically means having a criminal record sealed from public view. In Massachusetts, individuals convicted of certain crimes can apply to have their records sealed after the passing of a certain amount of time. For misdemeanor offenses, the waiting period is five years, and it’s 10 years for felony convictions. Some crimes, including sex offenses and firearms offenses can never be sealed. Although expungement seals your record of public view, there are certain Continue reading

Most people use the words theft, burglary, and robbery interchangeably. Although these three property crimes share some similarities, they are distinctly different. They all involve the act of taking or unlawfully entering another’s property, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.


Also known as larceny, theft involves the unauthorized taking of another’s property. In order to prove theft, the intent must be to permanently deprive another of his or her property. For example, if Sara takes a friend’s bicycle to have it fixed for her birthday and brings it back the next morning, that is not theft. If Sara takes a friend’s bicycle and hides it in her shed for months because she thinks the “friend” is having an affair with her husband, that is theft. Theft is the most basic, and usually the least serious, of these crimes. A MA defense lawyer can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with theft or any type of property crime.


Burglary involves unlawful entry into another’s structure. Although theft is often a component of burglary, nothing needs to be taken to justify a burglary charge. In fact, the intent to steal isn’t even necessary. What is necessary is the intent to commit a crime. If Bob breaks into an abandoned building because he wants to rescue a dog that was locked inside, that’s not burglary. If Bob breaks into an abandoned building to steal items that were left behind, he will likely be charged with burglary. But Bob can be charged with burglary even if he doesn’t steal anything. If he breaks into the abandoned building to commit a crime – to sell drugs, for example – a burglary charge may follow. Furthermore, breaking and entering isn’t even necessary. If Bob just turns the door handle and walks inside – with the intent to commit a crime – this act of unlawful entry may still result in a burglary charge.

Further, the intended crime doesn’t even need to be committed for a person to be charged with burglary. For example, if Bob broke into the building to sell drugs but never went through with the transaction, he can still be charged with burglary.


Robbery, on the other hand, does involve the intent to steal. It also involves physical force or the threat of harm. If someone grabs your purse out of a shopping cart and runs, this is theft, but it’s not robbery. If, however, the person knocks you down and grabs your purse from the shopping cart, this is robbery. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with robbery or another type of property crime.

Penalties for Theft, Burglary and Robbery

In MA, you may face the following penalties if you are convicted of theft, burglary, or robbery:


  • Theft: If the stolen property is valued at $250 or less, the penalties are a fine of up to $300 and up to one year in jail. If the property is worth more than $250, the penalties are up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.


  • Burglary: As with most crimes, the unique circumstances of the crime and prior history will impact the penalties. Burglary is a felony and those convicted could see up to 20 years behind bars. For second and subsequent offenses, however, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years. If you committed armed robbery, the mandatory minimum is increased to 15 years.


  • Robbery: If you assault someone with the intention of stealing from him, you may be convicted of felony robbery. This is true even if you are not successful in your attempt to steal. This crime carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. If the robbery involves confining the victim or victims and threatening violence (for example, a bank robbery), you may face up to life in prison.

Continue reading

According to Boston police, MIT’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity house was being “operated as a nightclub” on Sunday night, complete with a DJ and strobe lights. The fraternity failed to obtain the City of Boston License Division’s approval, but the problems don’t stop there. Underage drinking, a waterfall pouring down a marble staircase, and other hazardous conditions have resulted in the issuance of a violation to the fraternity’s president.

The inspection of the premises came after Boston police saw a “line of approximately 40 college-aged persons awaiting entry” into the fraternity house. During the inspection, detectives talked to a fraternity member who was stationed at the front door to record the number of people inside the building. When asked by police, he responded that there were 116 people inside.

Staircase Waterfalls and Underage Drinking

A hate crime is a criminal act committed against a victim because he or she belongs to a specific, protected group. In addition to the actual victim, hate crimes may pose a threat to society at large. For example, if a Muslim man is attacked for his religious beliefs, it stands to reason that the attacker may pose a threat to other people of the Muslim faith. For this reason, among others, hate crimes carry especially severe penalties in MA and across the nation.

Protected Groups

Although the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to free speech, it does not protect hate crimes. Hateful thoughts and speech are not the same as a hate crime. Posting anti-gay comments on your Facebook page may be protected as free speech, but threatening to kill a man because he’s gay is not free speech, it’s a crime.

You may be charged with a hate crime if you criminally target an individual because of his or her:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability

And perception is what counts. If a straight man is beaten up because his attacker thinks he’s gay, the attacker can still be charged with a hate crime even though the victim does not belong to a protected class. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a hate crime.

Categories of Hate Crimes

Hate crimes can be committed against a person or group of people, or against an institution.

  • Institutional target – prohibits the vandalism of protected institutions, such as churches, synagogues, or mosques.
  • Protected group – prohibits threats or violence against individuals because of their membership in a protected group, such as religion, race, or gender.

This does not mean, however, that every crime committed against a person who belongs to a protected group is a hate crime. The crime must be committed because of the victim’s membership in that group. For example, if a Muslim man is beaten up and the attackers take his wallet, it may appear to be a hate crime at first glance. But if there is no evidence that the attackers had any knowledge of the victim’s religion, the robbery would not be a hate crime. As such, proving that a crime is a hate crime can be difficult.

To convict someone of a hate crime, the prosecution must prove that the crime was motivated by the victim’s race, religion, or membership in another protected class or group. To do so, the prosecution will look for evidence of the defendant’s use of racial or other slurs, or other biased or derogatory comments. These may be provided by witnesses, or through the gathering of text messages, emails, or social media posts. If convicted, federal hate crime legislation punishes violent hate crimes with 10 years to life imprisonment. A MA criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a hate crime. Continue reading

There are few things as controversial as the debate about the right to own a firearm in this country. Gun ownership is a constitutional right, but many people are prohibited from owning one. This is especially true in Massachusetts. Although the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms to every citizen, regulations surrounding use and ownership are left to the state. In MA, firearm use and ownership is highly regulated and laws are strictly enforced.

Proper enforcement of gun laws is important given the dangers of misuse. But mistakes and misunderstandings happen. If you were charged with illegal possession of a firearm, a skilled Boston defense attorney can help you protect your rights. In MA, you may be facing illegal possession charges if:

  • You are found in possession of a firearm without the required license.
  • You are found in possession of an illegal firearm, such as a machine gun or sawed-off shotgun.

In the first scenario above, a mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months in prison may follow. Possession of a sawed-off shotgun or machine gun, however, carries even stiffer penalties. For this crime, you could be facing life in prison. MA’s  gun laws are among the harshest in the country. A MA criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with illegal possession of a firearm.

Other Types of Possession Charges

In some cases, a person can commit a gun crime even if he is licensed to own the gun and the gun meets state regulations. Some of these situations include:

  • Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony Offense: If you are found in possession of a firearm while committing a felony, you can be charged for more than the underlying crime. For example, if you are arrested for a fourth-offense OUI with your gun in the car, you will likely be charged with a felony OUI offense and a firearm violation, even if you are normally allowed to carry the gun. The penalties if convicted of this crime are serious – a mandatory minimum of five years in prison. And this is above and beyond the penalties for the underlying crime.
  • Carrying a Loaded Firearm While Intoxicated or Under the Influence of Drugs: If you are carrying a gun while drunk or drugged, you may be looking at up to two-and-a-half years behind bars and a $5,000 fine.

If you are facing illegal possession charges, you might think there’s no hope. But a knowledgeable lawyer can be of immense benefit to the outcome of your case. For starters, he or she will analyze whether your rights were violated during the arrest. If they were, some of the evidence used against you might have to be thrown out. For example, if the gun was seized from your home or vehicle during an “unreasonable search,” that evidence cannot be used to prosecute you.

In other cases, you may have been unaware that you possessed the weapon at the time of the arrest. For example, if you are found in a vehicle with a gun in the glove compartment, but you were unaware of its presence, a knowledgeable attorney may be able to get the case dismissed. Continue reading

The term harassment can be used to define many types of criminal behavior, including stalking and infliction of emotional distress. There is also civil harassment, which is often referred to in workplace contexts. For example, when a female worker is fired because she didn’t respond to her male superior’s requests for a date, this may be a form of workplace sexual harassment. Although this type of civil harassment is unlawful, it is not punished as a criminal act. The male superior might lose his job, but he isn’t likely to go to jail.

In MA, you may be convicted of criminal harassment if the prosecution can show that you willfully and maliciously engaged in conduct that would cause emotional distress in a reasonable person. Typically, the defendant and the victim know each other. In many cases, harassment follows the end of a romantic relationship. Maybe the person who broke it off no longer wanted to be contacted, but the other person wasn’t ready to let go. Regardless of the reason, it’s a criminal offense to purposely cause another person to feel emotional distress.The penalty for criminal harassment is up to two-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The Four Elements of Criminal Harassment

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