What Is Your Experience in Defending Clients Charged with Violent Crimes—Including Murder and Manslaughter—in Massachusetts?
I have over 10 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney. During that time, I have defended many dozens of people who were accused of committing violent crimes, up to and including manslaughter and murder
What are the Differences Between a Murder Charge and a Manslaughter Charge Under Massachusetts Law?
Manslaughter and murder are two different forms of homicide in Massachusetts. There are two levels of homicide classified as murder—Murder in the First Degree and Murder in the Second Degree—and one type classified as Manslaughter, which is an alternative to murder. The Commonwealth differentiates murder from manslaughter by the specific elements of the offense that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
In Massachusetts, the difference between murder and manslaughter depends on two main factors. The first factor is intent, and the second factor is culpability.
The default form of murder is murder in the first degree, which in Massachusetts is defined as a murder that’s committed with deliberately premeditated malice or forethought or with extreme atrocity or cruelty. Murder in the first degree is a capital crime in Massachusetts. Capital crimes are those crimes that carry the possibility of, or requirement of, lifetime imprisonment at sentencing.
Murder in the second degree, on the other hand, is an ambiguous term under Massachusetts law. It is defined by statute at a catch-all for any murder that is not murder in the first degree. That is, any act which is murder, but that does not have one or more of the elements of first-degree murder.
Manslaughter, meanwhile, is an unintentional, mistaken, or neglectful act that causes or results in a death. By definition, it cannot be the result of planning or forethought. A key difference between murder in the first degree and manslaughter is intent. Blameworthiness and malice are also key differentiators.
Are Murder and Manslaughter Bailable Charges in Massachusetts?
In Massachusetts, if you’re released after paying money to ensure that you’ll return to court, you’re said to have posted bail. Criminal defendants charged with first degree murder in Massachusetts do not technically have a right to bail. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that a judge has discretion to grant any defendant bail. This applies to defendants charged with any type of crime, including murder.
There is a presumption against release when you’re charged with a murder. However, you can overcome that presumption if you convince a court that it’s warranted to do so. In deciding whether or not to grant bail, the court has to consider the defendant’s family background, their educational history, their financial resources, and their ties to the community, as well as the defendant’s prior criminal history and record of convictions, whether they’ve ever defaulted on a case or failed to appear for a court appearance, and whether or not the defendant has any mental health conditions that might make them a danger to the community.
What are the Most Common Questions Clients Ask You About Murder and Manslaughter? How do People Usually Feel When They Come into Your Office to Discuss Serious Charges Like These?
Usually when people come into my office and they have a family member facing serious manslaughter or murder charges, they have one common question: what can we do right now? Usually, my answer to them is that the most important thing they can do to help themselves or to help their family member is to get an attorney started on the case right away.
These cases involve very serious charges and building a viable defense to those charges often comes down to investigation. Investigation has to happen as soon as possible if it is to be effective. Lots of potentially exculpatory evidence—evidence that shows that you are not guilty of the charges against you—is fragile or fleeting, or can be erased or lost rather quickly. If you do not begin investigation as soon as possible, it is likely that there is evidence that may be lost during the course of the months or years that it sometimes takes to get a serious case like a murder charge to trial.
No matter who you retain—whether that’s me or another attorney—it is imperative to get them on the case as soon as possible so the investigation can get underway. This way, any evidence that might be helpful to a defendant at trial can be preserved sooner rather than later.