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MASSBAR
The National Trial Lawyers
Greater Lowell Bar Association

Civil Rights Violations

A conviction for a civil rights violation has harsh consequences, including the possibility of a jail sentence.

Elements of a Civil Rights Violation

In order to convict a defendant of a civil rights violation, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The alleged victim was exercising a privilege or a right protected by the Massachusetts Constitution, the United States Constitution, or state or federal law;
  2. The defendant either intimidated, injured, interfered with, threatened, or oppressed, or attempted to intimidate, injure or interfere with the alleged victim’s enjoyment or exercise of that legally-protected right;
  3. The defendant did so by threatening to use force or actually using force; and
  4. The defendant’s conduct was willful.

The federal and state constitutions guarantee every individual the right to live, work, go to school, travel, and vote free from discrimination. The day-to-day activities of most individuals are protected by at least one constitutional provision. Therefore, the issue in most of these cases is whether the defendant willfully intimidated, injured, interfered with, oppressed, or threatened (or attempted to do any of those things) the alleged victim’s exercise or enjoyment of his or her constitutional rights.

Common Defenses and Defense Strategies

There are several popular defenses to civil rights cases.

  • Lack of Intent - The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant willfully intimidated, injured, interfered with, threatened or oppressed, or attempted to intimidate, injure, or interfere with the alleged victim’s exercise or enjoyment of a legally-protected right. If the defendant’s conduct was not willful, he or she cannot be convicted of a civil rights violation.
  • Alleged Victim’s Criminal Record - Alleged victims of civil rights violations often don't have clean hands.  If an alleged victim has a criminal record, Attorney Spring will obtain a copy during the discovery process.  Depending on the age of the alleged victim's convictions, the jury might find out about them.  To the extent the alleged victim has acted violently in the past - even if no criminal case resulted - Attorney Spring will request permission from the judge to share this information with the jurors.
  • Bias - Allegations of civil rights violations are particularly ugly.  The person claiming to be the victim has an incentive to help the prosecutor convict the defendant.  Attorney Spring will cross-examine the alleged victim on any potential bias and use the alleged victim's testimony to his advantage by arguing to the jury that a biased witness may not be believable. 

Assault and Battery for the Purpose of Intimidation is a crime that is related to a civil rights violation. Assault and battery for the purpose of intimidation requires proof that a defendant committed an assault and battery upon a person, or damaged the property of a person, with the intent to intimidate the person because of the person’s color, race, national origin, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. This crime requires proof not only of the underlying assault and battery but also of the defendant’s state of mind.

Civil rights violations are viewed particularly seriously by judges, and jail sentence are a common outcome when a defendant is convicted.  Attorney Spring will provide a thorough, aggressive defense if you are charged with this crime.

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