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The past day or so, I’ve had several people see me in court and express shock over the discovery of a probation sentence given five years ago, in 2009, to du Pont family heir Robert H. Richards IV, following his agreement at that time to plead guilty to fourth-degree rape of his own daughter. Across the country and the internet, there is outrage that the judge in the case sentenced Richards to probation, without prison time.

Despite the fact that the documents in the case were never sealed, the ruling somehow managed to escape notice until last month (March 2014,) when Richards’ former wife, Tracy Richards, filed a lawsuit in Delaware Superior Court on behalf of their children alleging “personal injuries arising from childhood sexual abuse.” The 11-page suit alleges that not only was their daughter abused, but that Richards sexually abused their son, too. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages. So, it seems that this news can be filed under “Eventually, the truth wins out.”

On the surface, this sentence, in response to the guilty plea on a charge of rape, seems shocking. But people need to understand the details that drive such a sentencing decision. Understand: I’m not necessarily “excusing” this sentence, I’m just explaining it. As a Boston Massachusetts sex crimes lawyer, I know all too well how complex these cases can become.

For a long time, Massachusetts sex offenses were – very generally speaking – broken down into “contact offenses,” where the defendant made physical contact with the victim, and “noncontact offenses,” where the defendant engaged in acts that are generally known as indecent exposure, or to use the lay term, “flashing.” Legally, such noncontact sex offenses constitute what in Massachusetts is called the crime of “Open and Gross Lewdness.” When a defendant has a demonstrated history of repeated sexual assaults against a victim or victims – where physical contact is made with the victim, if found guilty the defendant can not only be incarcerated under a criminal sentence. There’s potentially more to follow.

In fact, after the defendant’s criminal imprisonment is finished, the state can then commence civil commitment proceedings to have the defendant declared what is called a “Sexually Dangerous Person.” If this petition is granted, the effect is enormous, because he or she can then be committed civilly to incarceration at the Bridgewater State Hospital. Again, such a commitment does not constitute a second criminal conviction or a second criminal sentence, but a civil proceeding. This is a powerful, and occasionally necessary tool for authorities, when the behavioral evidence of the defendant’s history indicates that he or she is a serial offender, and highly likely to pose a physical danger to the public when released at the conclusion of a criminal prison sentence.

However, that mechanism for seeking a declaration that someone is a “Sexually Dangerous Person,” and thus keeping him or her incarcerated, has always been applied only to Massachusetts sex offenders who have committed contact sex offenses. These offenses include Massachusetts rape charges, Massachusetts Indecent Assault & Battery on a Person Under Age 14 charges, Massachusetts statutory rape charges, Massachusetts Indecent Assault & Battery on a Person Over Age 14 charges, and Massachusetts Assault with Intent to Commit Rape charges. This is just a partial list of Massachusetts sex crimes that can trigger a Sexually Dangerous Person commitment.

Amazing how a new expression or grammatical term can crop up almost literally overnight, isn’t it? The newest term that seems to be on everyone’s lips today: “Upskirting.” Seemingly a new verb that would have been met with confused looks just yesterday, now seems to be somehow thrown around as if it were “snowboarding” or “backpacking.”

And what gave birth to this newest addition to the public lexicon? An interesting legal case, of course (that’s one of the things that can make the practice of law so fascinating.) Background: It seems that a certain lothario was caught on the MBTA taking cell phone photos of women’s underwear, by angling his camera underneath their skirts as they sat across from him on the MBTA. We call that kind of person a Loser, with a capital “L.” At any rate, he was caught, and prosecuted in the Boston Municipal Court under the state’s criminal voyeurism statute, M.G.L. Ch. 272, Sec. 105, a misdemeanor. In 2012 he filed a motion to dismiss; that motion was rejected, and the SJC heard the case in last year, in 2013.

Under this statute, prosecutors needed to prove (importantly) both: 1) That the victims who had been photographed had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” while on public transportation, and 2) That they were photographed while they were “nude or partially nude.” The language of the statue was written this way because when the law was passed in 2004, it was intended to punish people who had set up hidden cameras in the walls of bathrooms or store dressing rooms, where intended victims would be “nude or partially nude.” In the case that the SJC dismissed here, the alleged victims were neither “nude or partially nude.” Thus, the court correctly found that prosecutors failed to prove the elements of the crime. Period.

When people ask me how I can defend people accused of sex crimes, there’s often a look of disbelief on their faces. They’re conjuring images of a rape victim being dragged into an alley or car, to be later violently beaten and raped. That’s a horrible image, so I understand why some people can have a hard time understanding why criminal defense lawyers defend people accused of sex crimes.

What they don’t understand, is that in a significant number of cases where rape or some other Massachusetts sex offense is alleged, the “facts” are often anything but clear. As a Dedham, Massachusetts sex offense lawyer, most of the defendants I represent are anything but sex offenders: A great many of them are college students, who were on a date, in a relationship, or were involved in a consensual “one-night stand,” when the other person involved, screamed rape. When that happens, the accuser is almost always a woman; the accused almost always a man.

And when that happens, as a Massachusetts college sex crimes attorney, I can assure you that the next thing to show up on the scene is an invisible, yet very palpable presence: Gender bias. In too many cases that I have seen, there is an immediate presumption that the male defendant is guilty of the crime alleged. The rationale for this un-acknowledged bias, is the idea that most men are much, much physically stronger than women; that the average woman is a weak, frail being unable to defend herself against a brute man. (By the way: Don’t doubt that, as with all kinds of prejudice, the worst kind of bias is the kind that is unacknowledged.) The idea that women are unable to physically resist an attack is, of course, unfounded – and the lie to this has been demonstrated by the fact that women now serve on police departments, and in fighting, battlefield positions in the military.

It’s the world’s oldest profession – and by the looks of things, the perpetrators – and victims — of prostitution are getting younger and younger.

Recently, police in three Massachusetts communities arrested three alleged pimps and 11 other people suspected of Massachusetts prostitution crimes. According to authorities, the arrests also took one underage girl off the streets. From last Thursday through Saturday, more than 2,500 state, local, and federal officers worked in 57 cities and towns nationwide to rescue 79 youths, and also arrested 104 alleged pimps, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Monday. In all, 11 people in Massachusetts were charged with exchanging sexual conduct for a fee.

The three-day undercover effort, which was held nationwide, was code named Operation Cross Country. It was organized by the FBI. Local police departments and the Massachusetts State Police cooperated. In Massachusetts, it involved 14 suspects in Malden, Saugus, and West Springfield. Its goal was to target teenage sex trafficking.

To be charged with rape at all is a devastating criminal charge. But things have gotten a lot worse for a Taunton High School teacher, for whom things have gone from bad to really, really bad.

Patrick Doyle, a 33 year-old teacher at Taunton High School, had already been charged a little over a week ago with statutory rape of a Taunton High School student. At his arraignment on that charge of statutory rape, Mr. Doyle was released on bail, which a judge set at $100,000.00. In my experience as a Norfolk County rape defense lawyer, that’s a high bail for a defendant facing this charge, with no prior offenses. But, at least he was released on bail, and, according to news sources, Mr. Doyle had not yet been fired. After his first arraignment, he was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the trial.

Recently, things have gotten a lot worse for Mr. Doyle. Late last week, the Bristol County District Attorney’s office brought a second rape charge against the Taunton High School teacher, this time for Aggravated Rape and Distributing Obscene Materials to a Minor. It is alleged with this second offense that the rape took place inside Taunton High School, and due to the allegations, this second offense was filed as Aggravated Rape, Because of this, the court revoked Mr. Doyle’s bail and he was placed behind bars. Worse, a conviction on a charge of Aggravated Rape carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of ten years. A “mandatory minimum” sentence means that if a jury finds the defendant guilty of the charge, the judge has NO CHOICE but to sentence the defendant to a minimum ten years in state prison. As you can see, the penalties for some Massachusetts sex offenses are extremely severe.

Boston sex offenders now have one more thing to worry about.

The city is the first in the USA to dedicate a police officer to the U.S. Marshals Sex Offender Investigations Branch. Their goal in teaming up together is to coordinate their efforts to track down convicted sex offenders who are unregistered with the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB).

The new program is unprecedented, and the Boston team has high hopes for its task force, who want to find sex offenders who are unregistered and not in compliance with SORB. Failure to register as a Massachusetts sex offender is a serious offense, and the U.S. Marshals Office plans on tracking down unregistered sex offenders, many of whom travel freely in and around different cities, towns and states.

Be careful what you say in a text message.

It used to be that phone calls and letters could be used in a court of law, to prove one guilty of indecent sexual solicitation. Nowadays, this Massachusetts sex crime can also be committed by text messaging, and here’s one example of that.

Last week a 21-year-old Massachusetts man was arrested and charged with a Raynham sex crime: Indecent solicitation of a 14-year-old girl who lives in Tiverton, R.I. Chad Virgil Souza was charged with a soliciting a child – a felony offense in Massachusetts – after he allegedly sent numerous text messages to a 14-year-old girl, mentioning sexual intercourse and drug use.

Think that women are more frequently the victims of sexual assault?

As a Dedham Massachusetts sexual offense lawyer, I can tell you – it’s not the case.

According to a new report published in U.S. News and World Report’s HealthDay News, men with disabilities are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than nondisabled men. This study was conducted by investigators at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

One of the things that make the practice of law interesting is that fine details always make the difference in given rulings.

Such was the case earlier this week when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC,) ruled against state prosecutors’ attempts to civilly commit a man that has openly acknowledged that he is a serial flasher. Some quick legal background: Like many states, Massachusetts has a legal mechanism to keep people in jail who have been convicted of sex offenses, even after they’ve served their sentences, if it considers those people to be sexually dangerous. This mechanism is known as the Civil Commitment Statute, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 123, Sec 1. 8. et. seq. In almost all cases, this statute allows prosecutors to bring a petition before a court when a convict is about to complete his or her sentence for a Massachusetts sex offense, and argue that the person should be civilly committed at the completion of his or her sentence, because that person remains a sexually dangerous person and poses a continuing threat of harm to others. Basically, when prosecutors file such a petition, they’re saying “Yes, this person served his sentence, but he’s still sexually dangerous, and shouldn’t be allowed on the streets. He should be incarcerated.” When a person is “civilly committed,” he or she is ordered held against their will at Bridgewater State Hospital, which is essentially a state mental hospital. Convicts that have been judicially declared to be criminally insane, and sexually dangerous persons, are held there. It is essentially a hybrid between a hospital and a prison, complete with armed guards and barbed wire.

The minimum requirement that prosecutors must meet to civilly commit a person, is a showing that the person poses a threat of physical harm to himself or others – and that’s what makes this case interesting: It poses the question: Is a flasher someone who poses a threat of physical harm to others? As I said, an interesting question. A voyeur is someone who likes to watch others sexually. A flasher is someone who wants to be watched sexually. While both actions are almost certainly offensive, do they pose the threat of physical harm? In this ruling – which the court went to great length to isolate as applying to this case and this case only – the answer was no, and the state’s efforts to civilly commit the man were rejected. The defendant in this case, named Donald Suave, has been convicted of the Massachusetts sex crime of “open and gross lewdness” seven times, almost always flashing young adult women, sometimes even masturbating in the process. He openly acknowledged to psychiatrists that he has done this as many as 30 times since he was a very young teenager.

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