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In Part Two of this three-part post on the horrific stabbing murder of a young medical student studying quietly in the Winchester Public Library on February 24, I wrote of the many times that the accused murderer, Jeffrey Yao, had come to the attention of the Winchester Police Department as well as school authorities and neighbors, for years before his behavior reached this savage ending. Despite this, Yao was never once civilly committed to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation and treatment – which could have prevented this awful tragedy. The reason that Yao was never civilly committed, has to do with the legal standard for civil commitment in Massachusetts.

“Civil commitment” refers to the legal process through which a person considered mentally ill and dangerous to him/herself or others, can be ordered held in a psychiatric facility for evaluation and possible medical treatment.  Massachusetts police do have the authority to do so: Under state law, a police officer who has a good faith belief that a person may harm himself, herself or others due to suspected mental illness is allowed to bring that person to a hospital Emergency Department or a mental health facility to be examined and evaluated by medical professionals, notwithstanding the fact that the individual may not (yet) have committed any crime. If such a person will not cooperate willingly in that process, police have the legal authority to restrain such a person.

By law, a person who is brought to a hospital under such circumstances is under no legal obligation to participate in any evaluation or examination, which is something that a civil libertarian will tell you is a good thing. Not necessarily so, in my opinion as a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer.  If the person refuses to cooperate or be evaluated, hospital personnel can invoke a state law that enables the hospital to hold the patient for three days. That should have been done at some point with Jeffrey Yao, and it wasn’t.

In Part One of this three-part post, I wrote of the horrific, nightmarish murder of Deanne Stryker, stabbed and slashed to death while the medical student studied quietly on Saturday, February 24 at the Winchester Public Library.

I also wrote of the fact that the accused murderer, Jeffrey Yao of Winchester, Massachusetts, had a long history of bizarre, dangerous, disturbed and violent behavior, that he was well-known to the Winchester Police Department, and that he had been brought before a judge after being arrested for trying to violently break into a neighbor’s home late one night last September. Yao was brought before a judge on criminal charges from that incident. While I don’t have the official court docket before me now, the likely charge (given press reports of what prompted that arrest,) was probably Attempted Breaking and Entering with Intent to Commit a Felony – a serious charge. From police reports filed in that case, it seems clear that Winchester police communicated Yao’s unstable and disturbed personality to prosecutors, the reporting officer writing that On each of my dealings with Yao he has displayed erratic behavior and mental instability.”

Yet a prosecutor with the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office agreed to recommend that Yao be released – on the extremely liberal sentence of pre-trial probation – and a judge agreed, with the ridiculous proviso that Yao “agree to (mental health) treatment.” Even from my vantage point of being a Middlesex County criminal defense attorney, it can be argued that the judge could have observed that Yao was very arguably, seriously mentally ill. One could ask, what made this judge think that: A) Yao truly and completely understood what he was being told by the court, or that B) He would actually comply with the court’s order? Who was going to make sure this happens – Yao’s parents?  They had previously, and repeatedly, told Winchester police that they themselves (Yao’s parents) could not communicate with him due to his obvious mental illness.  So who was it that was going to assure that Yao landed in front of a competent psychiatric specialist?  As a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, I’m the first person to admit that it’s uncharacteristic of me to argue that police and prosecutors should have taken a much harder line here.  But they clearly should have. 

Knowing that I’m a criminal defense attorney, a lot of people have approached me lately and expressed shock that Massachusetts murder suspect Jeffrey Yao could slip through the law enforcement and judicial cracks that he slipped through, given the extensive history of worrisome reports and complaints about his strange behavior that were reported to authorities by both Winchester High School students and adult residents of the Winchester neighborhood were he lived. These reports of his bizarre behavior reportedly spanned six years. By now millions across the country know this horrific story: That on Saturday, February 24, Yao walked casually into a public library in the small Massachusetts town of Winchester, carrying a ten inch hunting knife, and stabbed a young medical student by the name of Deane Kenny Stryker, to death. He stabbed her at least 20 times; when she finally fell to the floor, the hunting knife was still in her neck.

This is a scene out of a “Friday the 13th” film. It is beyond comprehension. Continue reading

Attorney General Maura Healey announced yesterday that a massive statewide fentanyl bust on Thursday, yielding 77 pounds of other drugs, including heroin, cocaine and opiate tablets, as well as $300,000 in cash. Law enforcement officials claimed that enough fentanyl was seized to possibly kill every person in Massachusetts. A dramatic description, for certain.

The six-month wiretap operation, conducted by a joint task force of federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents, the Massachusetts AG’s office, Boston police and other law enforcement agencies, resulted in the seizure of the drugs and the arrest of 37 separate suspects, including the alleged local kingpin, Robert Contreras of Roxbury. Contreras has been ordered held on $1 million bail on felony drug charges. The Boston Herald, quoting prosecutors, reported that evidence indicates that Contreras’ organization would receive the drugs from a much larger wholesaler, Mexico’s brutal Sinaloa cartel, them distribute them to lieutenants throughout the region, who would then supply lower-level dealers to addicts. Continue reading

In my previous two posts on this topic, I discussed how seemingly every day, more and more accusations of sexual “assault” are being leveled at people in public life (as well as private.) Many of these events are reported to be years, if not decades, old, and reflect highly questionable allegations.  Worse, it has been observed by more than one responsible journalist that if anyone dares to question the veracity of an accuser, or seeks to merely provide context to these accusations, that person is savagely attacked in the public square: Pilloried for having the audacity to inject perspective into this latest “debate” within a society that is addicted to controversy – the “Rage of the Day” or Crisis du Jour.”

Exhibit ‘A’ on this point: Actor Matt Damon. Damon had the utter audacity to opine in a recent interview that there are major differences between touching someone’s buttocks, and rape or attempted rape. Obviously, he was not speaking as an attorney because he isn’t one – and to me as a Massachusetts sex charges attorney, that made his comments all the more valuable, because he was commenting from a common-sense perspective. Damon wasn’t speaking from political correctness – and that what is made his comments so important. He noted how, prior to this current, frenzied climate of accusations of sexual assault, reason and probity would have otherwise prevailed – reason and probity that are now all but gone. He urged a return to healthy skepticism and careful investigation of such accusations, while not losing sight of needed context. Continue reading

In my previous post on this important subject, I talked about the literal explosion recently, in accusations and allegations of “sexual assault” being made against a wide variety of individuals – against the famous and anonymous alike.  I’m writing about this because I’ve been receiving a considerable number of phone calls recently – from both men and women alike – worried that they, too, might be accused of “sexual assault” – for the most minor of events.  For things that, frankly, strain belief that someone would make such a serious allegation.

This explosion of “sexual assault” allegations have followed the ‘shocking’ news that a physically unattractive Hollywood producer – Harvey Weinstein – had a “casting couch,” and pressured certain actresses for sex if they wanted to appear in his films.  To begin with, to my knowledge, the actions that Weinstein are reported to have engaged in – pressuring actresses to socialize with him and/or have sex with him if they wanted to see their careers advance in the film industry – can indeed be classified as boorish and tasteless.  If the allegations are true, Weinstein can indeed be called a social loser for having to resort to economic and career pressure to obtain sex.  But such suggestions by do not legally constitute “sexual assault.”  Far less do they constitute “rape.” Continue reading

A person would have to live under a rock not to know of the tsunami of sexual assault allegations that have rolled across the U.S. in the past few weeks, following the revelations of sexual assault allegations made against famous Hollywood figures such as film producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey.  These accusations started in Hollywood, but have in the past few weeks spread to almost every corner of American society – from producers, directors and actors to CEO’s, politicians and civic leaders, corporations, non-profits and academic institutions.

While I am sure that a substantial number of these allegations of sexual assault are true, people need to remember that sexual assault accusations are some of the easiest to manufacture or use as leverage against another person.  This can be done for a variety of reasons – most commonly financial leverage, revenge against a relationship gone bad, jealousy and other reasons.  What concerns me about the current social environment is the veritable explosion of these accusations, seemingly arising from every corner of American society, since the Harvey Weinstein revelations.  It seems that countless individuals from every corner of society are now screaming “Me Too” – claiming that they were “victims” of “sexual assault.”  I showed my wife a picture I saw on Facebook recently of a group of women all holding “Me Too” signs – each one of them smiling ear to ear, as though they had just one some kind of award.  What’s wrong with this picture — in general?   These are victims of “sexual assault”? Continue reading

Many clients have asked me whether they can or should seal a criminal record that they have.  While people who have a criminal record might think that sealing that record (if possible) is a no-brainer, it’s not so cut-and-dried.  This question is becoming especially popular now that legislation is being weighed at the State House, about reducing the periods of time that persons who have a criminal record have to wait before they can request that those record(s) be sealed.

Almost anyone who has been arrested or arraigned on criminal charges in Massachusetts, even when a case is dismissed or results in  a “Not Guilty” verdict, generates a CORI report (criminal offender record information.)  Having such a record can often make it difficult for such people to find housing or employment. Continue reading

Here’s a very interesting hypothetical legal question:  Let’s assume that “Dave Defendant” is convicted of a certain crime – whether a misdemeanor or felony –and is sentenced to probation.  Part of his probation terms require that he remain drug-free, and submit to random drug tests administered by the Department of Probation.

One day, Dave Defendant’s drug tests come back positive for a controlled substance.  His probation officer brings Defendant back before a judge, for what’s known as a “probation violation” hearing. The judge finds that Defendant had indeed tested positive for prohibited drugs, which means that Defendant violated the terms of his probation – which authorizes the judge to sentence Defendant to jail.  Should this be done – should such a person be sentenced to jail for relapsing during drug recovery? Continue reading

Like an unusually large wave that occasionally hits the shore, every few years there is a swell on Beacon Hill to “reform” something. Back in the 1990’s, get-tough-on-crime advocates successfully passed legislative “crack-down” amendments to many criminal law statutes, several of them requiring mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of crimes – mostly Massachusetts drug offenses.  As a Massachusetts drug offenses lawyer, I can assure you that this approach produced some pretty awful legal results in courtrooms across the state – tying judges’ hands any time that a guilty verdict was returned by a jury on often victim-less, relatively minor drug charges.

Now, a backlash of sorts has hit Beacon Hill – in the current wave to reform many elements of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts.  The overall thrust of this effort, its sponsors say, is to reduce the numbers of people that are caught up in the criminal courts here.  In the process, the bill has sparked a lot of debate, and criticism as well. I’ll list out the major suggested changes below, with some brief commentary:

  • Current mandatory minimum sentences for several drug offenses — including cocaine distribution and selling drugs inside 300 feet of a school — would be repealed. Mandatory minimum sentences require judges to sentence anyone found guilty of certain crimes, many of which are various drug offenses, to a minimum jail or prison time, with no chance of parole. This would give back to judges the wider discretion they once had in these cases, and as anyone who knows me is aware, that’s a good thing.  As I’ve spoken of and written previously, mandatory minimum sentences do little if anything to prevent crime, and just fill our prisons up with low-level drug offenders, instead of reserving space for violent criminals. Notwithstanding, the senate’s bill would retain mandatory minimum sentences for defendants convicted of dealing the largest amounts of illegal drugs – usually, over 100 grams of cocaine or heroin. Any drug trafficking charges involving opioids would also trigger mandatory minimums.