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Articles Posted in sex crimes

A Provincetown man is suing amid claims his privacy rights were violated after authorities allegedly kept records in connection with a voluntary DNA sample he submitted during an investigation into the killing of a fashion writer, the Boston Globe reports.

Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys are seeing an increasing number of criminal charges being brought in cold cases after hits from the DNA database link defendants to the crime. In addition to the state system, samples are submitted to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which compiles and compares samples from defendants and unsolved crimes nationwide.

While seldom discussed as a reason to fight a conviction on felony charges in Massachusetts, keeping your DNA out of such databases can be critical to protecting your privacy rights.

In this case, Keith Amato sued after trying for two years to get his sample back from law enforcement. He claims the submission was voluntary and that authorities told him he would get the sample back if his DNA did not match a sample collected at the scene of the killing of Christa Worthington. While the sample was returned in October 2008, he claims the state crime lab has held his DNA profile, along with records and samples provided by other men.

Last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled his lawsuit can go forward; it had been tossed out by a lower court.

“The allegations that the defendants have retained Amato’s highly sensitive DNA records without his consent and made them available for nonconsensual use in other criminal investigations are sufficient to constitute an unreasonable, substantial, and serious interference with Amato’s privacy,” the court ruled.

Worthington’s trash collector, Christopher McCowen, was convicted in 2006 of her rape and murder and is serving life in prison. Worthington lived in Cape Cod at the time of the crime. Investigators solicited samples from numerous men who knew the victim. Amato was a relative by marriage of the father of Worthington’s 2 1/2 year old daughter.

The lawsuit claims as many as 200 men gave samples and that Amato was assured any samples that did not match the crime scene would not become part of any state or federal database. McCowen also provided a sample before being arrested in 2005.

Amato was unsuccessful in retrieving his sample, despite requesting its return on numerous occasions from the Cape & Islands District Attorney’s Office. The office said state lab protocol requires retaining evidence in murder cases for 50 years.

Such DNA dragnets are an example of law enforcement operating in a gray area. The “voluntary” collection of samples comes perilously close to unreasonable search and seizure and must be aggressively challenged by a Cape Cod criminal defense lawyer.

Unfortunately, such tactics have been around since the advent of DNA. The first use of DNA in a criminal case occurred in England after the rape and murder of two girls. “Mass screening” of male subjects was used to solve the crime. The case is recounted in “The Blooding: The True Story of the Narborough Village Murder,” by Joseph Wambaugh.

Wambaugh is a former detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.
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The Massachusetts Appeals Court in the case of Commonwealth v. Figueroa, decided on April 29, 2011, upheld a defendant’s conviction for indecent assault and battery in Chelsea, Massachusetts despite arguments that the court improperly allowed statements of the victim into evidence without providing an opportunity for cross examination.

In Figueroa, the defendant was working at Fairlawn Nursing Home in Leominster, Massachusetts and was alleged to have had sex with an eighty-six year old woman suffering from dementia. At trial, the victim did not testify, but two witnesses from the hospital did testify, including a witness that claimed to have witnessed the incident.

The legal issue surrounding this Massachusetts sex crime was whether statements that the victim made to another CNA describing the defendant’s actions, in having sex with the victim and indicating that the defendant claimed to be performing a test on the victim. The Massachusetts criminal attorney objected to these statements being admitted into evidence.

The Appeals Court stressed that an excited utterance is admissible if it is made following an occurrence or event that is sufficiently startling to render inoperative the normal reflective process and the statement was a spontaneous reaction to the occurrence or event.

Having found that the statement was admissible under the rules of evidence, the next issue for the Appeals Court was whether the statement could be admitted without providing the defendant an opportunity for cross examination of the speaker. Accordingly, the Court addressed the issue of whether the statements were testimonial.

The Court discussed that statements made in response to law enforcement questioning are testimonial per se, except where the statements are meant to secure a volatile scene or to establish the need to provide medical care. The Court went on to stress that it will evaluate whether or not a statement is testimonial based on whether a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would anticipate his statement being used against the accused in investigating and prosecuting a crime.

The Appeals Court concluded that the victim’s statement that the defendant did the test again indicates that the victim understood the question to be about her medical condition. The Court held that the inquiry is whether a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would objectively believe that the statement would be used in a criminal prosecution. The Court held that the declarant would not have reasonably believed her statements would be used to prosecute the defendant.

The decision of the Appeals Court is difficult to reconcile with the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Michigan v. Bryant and I would expect the SJC to reverse the conviction should further appellate review by sought. In Bryant, the United States Supreme Court held that the statement of a victim identifying the person that shot him was nontestimonial because the police were responding to an ongoing emergency.

In contrast, in the case of Figueroa, the victim was describing a past criminal act. The victims purpose in describing the actions of the defendant were not to obtain further medical treatment, but to describe what happened to her; the fact that the victim may not have known of the illegality of the conduct cannot negate that the objective purpose of the statement was to describe the criminal conduct of the defendant. Further, at the time of the statement, there does not appear to be any ongoing emergency as other hospital employees had come into the room. Additionally, the purpose of the victim being questioned was to determine whether the defendant had committed a criminal act in his care of the victim. Accordingly, when the victim was being questioned by the hospital employees, the employees were acting essentially as police officers trying to determine what had happened at a crime scene. In a footnote, the Appeals Court note that the employee testified that when she first spoke to the victim she did not think she would have to report anything to the police, but it was only after hearing the victim’s response that she realized she would be required to notify the police.

The result in this case deprived the defendant of his Sixth Amendment Right of Confrontation and I would expect the SJC to reverse if further appellate review is granted.
The Court’s decision undermines the basic purpose of the right of confrontation to allow for face to face confrontation of an individual accuser at a criminal trial.
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The Massachusetts Appeals Court revisited the doctrine of the first complaint witness in the recent decision of Commonwealth v. Aviles, decided on August 16, 2010. In Aviles, the defendant appealed his conviction of rape and indecent assault and battery arguing that the trial judge committed error of law in admitting evidence of multiple complaint witnesses. This ruling represents an important decision for criminal defense lawyers, defending sex crimes.

As a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, charges of sexual assault generally raise an evidentiary issue known as the first compliant doctrine. Under the first complaint doctrine, defined by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in Commonwealth v. King, 445 Mass. 217 (2005), the prosecutor is only permitted to have the first person to whom the victim told of the alleged assault to testify at trial.

The rationale for the doctrine is to refute the notion that silence is a sign of lack of credibility of the victim. In other areas of criminal law, a victim would not be permitted to testify that she told someone else about a crime as the testimony would be inadmissible hearsay. Accordingly, the first complaint doctrine is essentially a special exception to the hearsay rule. The SJC in King limited the evidence to one witness out of concern that permitting numerous complaint witnesses to testify would deprive the defendant of a fair trial and unfairly enhance the credibility of the victim.

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