This year, faculty and students in the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) have been investigating criminal cases, interviewing witnesses, conducting research, and arguing motions and trials before several courts.
At CJI students find the opportunity to combine their classroom education with hands-on experience, representing indigent criminal defendants and juveniles. Students are assigned cases in local district and juvenile courts and handle everything from arraignment to trial. Under the supervision of experienced clinical instructors, students handle an average of six to eight misdemeanor and felony cases during the semester. Below are some of their recent successes in court.
Via the Criminal Justice Institute
In December 2015, Clinical Professor of Law and Deputy Director of CJI, Dehlia Umunna, along with Clinical Instructor Jennifer McKinnon, had a jury trial in Dorchester Court. Our client was accused of an assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on the mother of his younger daughter. The client has legal custody of his oldest daughter and had been sharing custody of his youngest one for the first two years of her life. The client and the alleged victim, although no longer in a relationship, continued to have an amicable relationship up until he began dating someone new. That is when she began stalking him and making his life very difficult. After she lodged her allegations against him, she did not allow him visitation with their daughter. However, after a two day jury trial, our client was acquitted. The first thing he said after the verdict was read was that he hoped to litigate for visitation of his little girl now that this nightmare was over. Several jurors found our client in the hallway after the trial, shook his hand, and wished him and his girls the best in life.
In February 2016, Umunna and student attorney Brittany Llewellyn J.D. ’16 successfully defended their client, a young man who had been charged with assault. The client had been accused of assaulting two security guards almost three years ago, despite the fact that there was no tangible, unbiased evidence that our client had touched, hit or raised his fists to the security guards at all. At trial, the Commonwealth’s only evidence came from the complaining witnesses who then changed their stories when they testified on the stand. Llewellyn argued the motions and conducted the opening statement for the defense, while Umunna cross-examined witnesses, conducted the direct examination of the defense witness, and closing argument. The result was a not guilty verdict.
Says Llewellyn, “this was my first time trying a case, and the trial was an enriching and rewarding experience. Apart from allowing me an opportunity to develop my speaking, advocacy, and other courtroom skills, this trial experience also reinforced to me the importance of being well-prepared for court, in order to be able to forcefully advocate on behalf of your client. I was nervous during the 15 minutes that we waited while the jury deliberated. But then I thought about our client, and considered how nervous he must be because he had so much at stake. The incident at issue in the trial had occurred in 2013, and our client had to wait years to be found not guilty for something he did not do. It was meaningful to see justice done.”
Sarah Teyssen J.D. ’16 and Jacob Loup J.D. ’16 conducted a trial on a charge of assault and battery. After several delayed trial dates — due to court congestion, delays by the prosecutor, and an absent police officer witness — the trial finally took place on March 15–16. Teyssen gave the opening statement, cross-examined the alleged victim and a civilian witness, and made the arguments for specific jury instructions at the end of the trial. Loup argued the opening motions, cross-examined a police officer, and delivered the closing argument. After about an hour of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The charge had been hanging over the client’s head for almost a year and a half; he was very happy to finally have the matter behind him. The students were supervised by Senior Clinical Instructor Kristin Muniz.
Angel Everett J.D. ’16 and Aaron Bray J.D. ’16 successfully defended their client at a jury trial in the Roxbury District Court on a criminal charge of Violating a Restraining Order. Everett gave the opening statement, cross examined the complaining witness and conducted two direct examinations of defense witnesses. Bray lead the attorney-conducted voir dire of the jurors, cross-examined the police officer, directly examined a defense witness and delivered the closing argument. After a brief period of time, the jury returned with a verdict of not guilty. The students were supervised by Senior Clinical Instructor Kristin Muniz.
Clinical Instructor Jennifer McKinnon and student attorney Rena Karefa-Johnson J.D. ’16 tried a jury trial in Roxbury District Court in March. Our client was charged with two counts of indecent assault and battery and two counts of assault and battery. He was in the process of applying for citizenship when these charges were filed against him. The allegations were made by family friends who were fighting over money with our client’s family. The “collateral” consequences for our client if he were convicted included being required to register as a sex offender and, because of his immigration status, deportation. After a two day trial, our client was acquitted of all charges. When the verdict was read, there was not a dry eye on our side of the room, including the interpreter! As the jurors left the building, several came over to us to wish our client well and congratulate us.
In April, two CJI students, Michelle Elsner J.D. ’16 and Taylor Poor J.D. ’16, led their first jury trial on the criminal charges of assault and battery on a household member, a misdemeanor, and strangulation, a felony. With the help of their classmates, they investigated the case and interviewed witnesses. Elsner gave the opening statement, cross-examined the Commonwealth’s main witness, conducted direct examinations of the CJI students who served as rebuttal witnesses, and argued the sentencing. Poor took the majority of the legal motions, including the motions in limine, the cross-examinations of both police officers, a direct examination of one of the rebuttal witnesses, and the closing statement. After almost five days of trial and deliberation, the jury returned a split verdict: not guilty on the strangulation charge, and guilty on the assault and battery count. At the moment, Elsner and Poor are gathering material to pass on to Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) for the next step: appeal. Elsner and Poor were honored to represent and fight for their client, and greatly appreciated the rare chance to lead a trial as law students.
Motion to Suppress
In March, CJI won the outright dismissal of a case charging our client with causing serious bodily injury while driving under the influence. The charge arose out of a nighttime car accident in which a pedestrian suffered significant brain injuries. CJI alum Aaron Webman, HLS J.D. ’15, investigated the case over a year ago and litigated several discovery motions. Webman’s pre-trial litigation revealed that the Boston Police Department had a surveillance video that showed the client was driving safely, his view of the pedestrian was likely blocked by a van in the next lane, and the pedestrian stepped into oncoming traffic far from any crosswalk. Before the video could be used to exculpate Webman’s client, it was destroyed by Boston Police, who failed to take any steps to “preserve” it. CJI alums Samantha Gupta, HLS J.D. ’15, and Michael Dziuban, HLS J.D. ’15, brought and litigated a motion to dismiss the case as a sanction for the loss of the video, without which it was not possible for their client to have a fair trial. Based on the testimony of numerous police witnesses, the judge found that no remedy short of dismissal would protect the defendant’s right to due process of law. The students were supervised by Clinical Instructor Lia Monahon.
On April 5, 2016, Zoe Bedell J.D. ’16 represented a CJI client in appellate arguments in front of Justices Green, Trainor, and Milkey on the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. At arraignment, the judge had dismissed one charge of stalking against our client and reduced one charge of assault and battery with a deadly weapon to simple assault and battery; the Commonwealth appealed the judge’s decision. We argued that the judge had properly dismissed and reduced the charges given the lack of probable cause to support the charges. Clinical Professor of Law Dehlia Umunna wrote the briefs and supervised the oral arguments. The decision is still pending.
On April 14, 2016, David Victorson J.D. ’16 argued an appellate case in front of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The panel consisted of Chief Judge Kafker, Judge Kinder, and Judge Neyman. The issue stems from the fact that Massachusetts does not have a broad obstruction of justice statute. The client is accused of swallowing evidence, but since there is no proper statute to cover that charge, the Commonwealth charged her with “Intimidation of a Witness.” The Intimidation statute makes it illegal to “mislead . . . a police officer,” so the Commonwealth’s argument is that obstruction is misleading. The District Court dismissed the charge, saying that misleading conduct must create a false impression — basically that “mislead” does not mean “obstruct.” The Commonwealth appealed and, as it told the court, is looking for a decision that clarifies what “mislead” means rather than a decision based in the specific facts of this particular incident. Mr. Victorson was supervised by Clinical Instructors Robert Proctor and Lia Monahon. The decision is still pending.