Civil Rights Violations

A conviction for a civil rights violation has serious 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

Civil rights violations can be defended in a variety of ways.

  • 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 - If the alleged victim has a criminal record or a history of violence, Attorney Spring will attempt to present this information to the jury. Criminal convictions are generally admissible within a certain time frame (convictions for misdemeanors within the last five years are admissible; convictions for felonies within the last 10 years are admissible). History of violence evidence (also called “prior bad act” evidence) is generally admissible to impeach the alleged victim. Attorney Spring has extensive experience litigating these types of issues.
  • Bias - In most civil rights cases that go to trial, there is bad blood between the defendant and the alleged victim. The alleged victim ordinarily wants to see the defendant convicted and punished. The alleged victim’s desire for revenge will be fully exposed on cross-examination.

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.

Given the serious consequences that result from a civil rights conviction, it is essential that you have an attorney who is experienced in trying these types of cases. Attorney Spring prosecuted these cases when he served as an assistant district attorney, and he has successfully defended these charges since founding Spring & Spring.

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