Massachusetts Witness Intimidation Law
In Massachusetts, it is a crime to engage in witness intimidation, juror intimidation, and intimidation of persons who provide information in connection with criminal cases. Serious consequences exist for engaging in such behavior. The law makes it illegal to threaten, attempt or cause damage to, mislead, intimidate, or harass another person who is:
- a witness or potential witness;
- aware of information or documents relating to a criminal case or violations of parole or court orders;
- a judge, juror, grand juror, attorney, victims witness advocate, police officer, correction offer, federal agent, investigator, clerk, court officer, court reporter, court interpreter, probation officer or parole officer;
- or was attending or made their intention known to attend a judicial proceeding; and/or
- a family member of a person described in this section.
A person engaging in these tactics must do so with the intent to impeded, obstruct, delay, prevent, or otherwise interfere with:
- a criminal investigation at any stage
- a grand jury proceeding
- a dangerousness hearing
- a motion hearing
- a trial or other criminal proceeding of any type
- parole hearing
- parole violation proceeding
- administrative hearing
- probate court proceeding
- family court proceeding
- juvenile proceeding
- housing proceeding
- land proceeding
- clerk’s hearing
- court ordered mediation
- or any other civil proceeding
Additionally, a person may be found guilty of intimidation if he or she punishes, harms or retaliates against a person or that person’s family members for that person participating in any of the above-listed judicial proceedings.
The Massachusetts witness intimidation law is very broad and for good reason. Intimidating or interfering with legal proceedings can have serious consequences to the administration of justice. Considering the seriousness of this offense, Massachusetts has made the violation of this law subject up to ten years imprisonment in the state prison or up to two and a half years in the house of correction. A person in violation of this law may also be subject to fines of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000.Recent Case on Witness Intimidation in Massachusetts
More recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court limited the scope of the intimidation statute in Commonwealth v. Fragata. In the case, a couple became involved in a heated argument. The girlfriend, the victim, told her boyfriend, the defendant, that she was going to call 911. In an attempt to prevent her from doing so, the defendant took the victim’s cell phone from her and prevented her from leaving the apartment, eventually choking her and slamming her head against the wall. The defendant was charged with and found guilty of intimidation of a witness for preventing the victim from calling 911. However, the Supreme Judicial Court overturned the trial court’s ruling finding that, for the defendant to be found guilty, his actions prior to taking the cell phone away must have amounted to a crime. The state did not present evidence that a crime had been committed prior to the defendant taking away the victim’s cell phone, and therefore, the defendant was acquitted of the witness intimidation charge.Defending a Charge of Witness Intimidation
Several tactics exists that an attorney can use to defend a client against a charge of witness intimidation, such as the one used in the case above. In criminal cases, the state must prove every element of the criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, one argument a defense attorney may make is that the state did not provide enough evidence for one or more of the elements of the claim. For example, a defense attorney may be able to show that the state did not provide enough evidence to show that the defendant had the mental intent to intimidate a witness or obstruct or delay a judicial proceeding.
A criminal defense attorney can help those charged with witness intimidation examine their case and determine what defenses may be asserted. If you or someone you know needs assistance with this type of case, then do not hesitate to contact us to set up a consultation. You can contact Attorney DelSignore at 781-686-5924.