Convicted rapist William Polk of Dover, Massachusetts, has good reason to be optimistic today, now that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has granted him a retrial on the statutory rape charges he was convicted of two years ago. Mr. Polk was convicted in February, 2010, on two charges of Massachusetts statutory rape, for allegedly raping a then 15-year-old girl. What was highly unusual in the case was not the questionable testimony involved, but that almost the entire town of Dover actively spoke out in support of Mr. Polk while he was awaiting trial, during his trial, and after his conviction. Indicative of the level of community support he received, after Mr. Polk was indicted and charged, he was not fired from his job as a sports coach – working with high school-age students – in Dover.
After a jury deliberated five days, the jurors returned a guilty verdict. Superior Court judge Janet Sanders sentenced Polk to four to five years in state prison, but his attorney appealed his conviction. The court granted his application for direct appellate review, and this week ruled that defense testimony was improperly excluded by Judge Sanders, ordering a retrial.
Court documents reveal that there was an exclusion of evidence at the trial two years ago, indicating prejudicial error in the process. That evidence pertained to the expert testimony of a licensed psychologist, Dr. Daniel Brown, and the victim’s biological mother. Dr. Brown’s testimony, for example, would have revealed that he believed that the alleged victim had a psychological condition known as “dissociative amnesia,” and thus, could have fabricated or distorted her allegations against Polk. But Judge Sanders ruled, in favor of the prosecution, that Dr. Brown wasn’t allowed to give his testimony in the Norfolk Superior Court trial. At the time of the trial, Judge Sanders ruled that Dr. Brown’s opinion was speculative.
Clearly, taking five days to reach its verdict, the jury had a difficult time making their decision.
Mr. Polk, in his appeal, argued that excluding Dr. Brown’s evidence prevented him the opportunity to explain to the jury the possibility that the victim’s allegations were fabricated or came from a distorted memory. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed the convictions because they felt that Mr. Polk was denied his constitutional right to present his defense, a legal conclusion I thoroughly agree with.
As a Massachusetts rape attorney, I’m glad to see this order from the SJC in this case. Justice will be better served if Mr,. Polk is allowed to present his fullest possible defense testimony, from a psychological expert or otherwise.
I can tell you this: Massachusetts statutory rape charges often bring devastating consequences — regardless of whether or not the sex was consensual. A conviction on statutory rape charges can result not only in a lengthy state prison sentence, but it can destroy someone’s life and result in required sex offender-registration status after release from incarceration.
It is entirely possible here that an innocent man may have been convicted of a crime he did not commit. Justice could not be served until a trial jury could hear a full presentation of expert testimony in Mr. Polk’s defense.