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Driving under the influence of your Smartphone

Nowadays, it is hard to find one person without a smartphone.  Even teens and tweens have them.  We talk and text, Facebook and Tweet.  And, although we know we should not, some of us are guilty of driving and texting.  But do we truly recognize the consequences?  Less than a month ago, Jason Seelye was involved in a texting and driving fatality right here in Boston. On July 22, 2013, he was driving from a party where he had been drinking. He lost control and wrecked his vehicle.  Seelye admitted to reading a text message at the time of the crash.  His passenger, Daniel Pinnick, was severely injured and later died.  This type of senseless death has become all too commonplace.

Texting and driving is a widespread problem

Far too many people believe that they can text and drive safely.  However, the statistics tell the real story.  According to the National Safety Council, there are approximately 1.6 million accidents each year caused by texting.  More disturbing is the fact that approximately 2,600 deaths resulted from the use of cell phones while driving.   Studies show that, when texting,  you are 6 times more likely to have an accident, making texting while driving worse than driving drunk.  The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that you are 23 times more likely to have an accident while texting.  Why?  Because texting is like driving after drinking four beers – it slows your reaction time by 18%.

What are state legislatures doing about the growing problems created by cell phones?

Considering these statistics, it was clear that new laws addressing this growing trend were necessary.  Washington was the first state to take action and, in 2007, passed the first texting while driving ban.  Now, only 9 states do not have a complete ban on texting and driving.  Fifteen states have gone one step further and completely banned the use of hand-held devices while driving.  Currently, only Montana and South Carolina do not have any cell phone or texting laws on the books.

Massachusetts ban on texting and cell phone use while driving

Massachusetts does not have a general ban on hand-held devices, but has banned texting while driving for all drivers.  School bus drivers and drivers under the age of 18 years are banned from cell phone use while driving.  Massachusetts’ law, known as The Safe Driving Law, became effective on September 30, 2010. According to Massachusetts officials, they “foresee rigorous enforcement of this law.”  Interestingly enough, in 2012 Montana (which has no bans) was reported as generally having the highest motor vehicle fatality rate, while Massachusetts was reported as having the lowest.

Can texting bans truly be enforced?

While the need for bans can hardly be debated, are the bans working?  Some believe they cannot really be enforced.  Logically, texting bans beg the question: how can a police officer tell if the driver is texting?  Police officers will no doubt have a difficult time proving this violation, since the person they stop could have just dialing a phone number, which at this time is not illegal.  One set of researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee believe the answer is to remain consistent and enforce the laws as you would drunk driving laws.  In their opinion, enforcement of the bans “must be universal and considered a primary violation.” Certainly the mere existence of the bans can deter some from the dangerous behavior, and perhaps that is all we can hope for.

James ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s long awaited trial

The trial for one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives just began in Boston.  James “Whitey” Bulger – the alleged Winter Hill Gang leader – eluded law enforcement for decades.  According to reports, he fled Boston in 1994 and was captured 17 years later living in Santa Monica, California.

Described as a modern day Robin Hood, Bulger initially achieved prominence in south Boston by helping out his working class neighbors while keeping drug dealers at bay.   Some even thought of him as a “near-mythical figure…” While revered by some, others reportedly saw a different side to Bulger – that of a cold-blooded killer.  Law enforcement alleges that Bulger was a hardened mob-boss, and is implicated in the murders of 19 people over the course of 30 years.

The Charges

Bulger is on trial as the result of a 32-count racketeering (RICO) indictment, including his involvement in the 19 murders.

RICO is a federal charge of racketeering, commonly used in organized crime and mob trials.  It is broadly defined as the act of operating an illegal business or scheme for profit, perpetrated by a structured group.

Racketeering can involve several different criminal acts such as murder, fraud, illegal gambling, money laundering or prostitution. Often, mob bosses or gang leaders can be found guilty of racketeering charges for crimes they ordered.  This means someone may be found guilty of murder even if they weren’t the one who actually committed the act.

Here Bulger’s alleged illegal actions include:

•19 counts of murder
•Extortion
•Narcotics distribution
•Conspiracy to commit murder
•Conspiracy to commit extortion

For the prosecution to prove Bulger is guilty of racketeering, the government must convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Bulger was responsible for at least one of these crimes.  If convicted, Bulger could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

The prosecution also alleges that Bulger was an FBI informant – a claim that Bulger fervently denies. On Monday, June 24, a federal agent testified that Bulger [Informant 1544] provided details concerning the Mafia, tips in murders and other insider information leading to imprisonment for others.

The Defense

While the defense strategy will be revealed over the next weeks and months of the trial, it is likely that Bulger’s criminal defense attorneys will attack the credibility of the witnesses testifying against Bulger.  If the jurors fail to believe the prosecution’s witnesses, then the government won’t have met its burden to show Bulger’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Witness Credibility

One of the star witnesses against Bulger is Johnny Martorano, a man who has confessed to killing 20 people.   As the result of a plea agreement, Martorano served only 14 years in jail. In a deal with the government to testify against Bulger, he was released from jail after serving only 12.

Can the jury trust the testimony of a convicted killer?  Martorano has clearly benefited from agreeing to testify against Bulger.  He [Martorano] has also sold the film rights to his life story, as well as collaborated on a book entitled Hitman.  It appears that Martorano has nothing to lose by testifying against Bulger, which weakens his credibility.

In fact, another witness for the prosecution admitted during cross-examination that inmates know they can get “extraordinary benefits” if they agree to testify for the prosecution.  As is often the case in mob trials, several of the other witnesses for the prosecution have credibility issues and are linked to criminal activity.

Defending Bulger’s Reputation

The defense is also seeking to lift the current gag order, preventing Bulger’s attorneys from speaking to the media.  Bulger’s team wants to be able to fight back in the press and on television, which has primarily portrayed Bulger in a negative light.   Too often, the public forms an opinion about a criminal defendant’s guilt or innocence that is hard to shake, even if the defendant is eventually acquitted.

The Bulger trial is expected to last up to three months and will provide a glimpse into alleged mob life in the 1970s and 80s. Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Sources:

A Guide To The Trial Of James Whitey Bulger, BostonHerald.com June 18, 2013

Whitey Bulger’s 700-page FBI informant file discussed at trial; defense insists he wasn’t an informant, Boston.com June 24, 2013

Ex-FBI Agent to Testify Against Bulger, ABC News.com, June 24, 2013

Whitey Bulger Trial Enters 3rd Week; Here’s What You Need To Know, June 24, 2013 Huffington Post

The Case for—and Against—More Surveillance in Public Areas

The heinous act of terror at the Boston Marathon this year—and the subsequent capture of the culprits via footage from surveillance cameras and tourist photos at the event—have rekindled a national fascination with the watchful eye of law enforcement. A New York Times/CBS News poll found that seventy-eight percent of Americans were comfortable with public surveillance in the aftermath of the attacks, despite pushback from civil liberties groups. Critics of the so-called security state have a point about the extremes of government intelligence gathering; however, supporters cite numerous benefits to the expansion of surveillance technology.

The PATRIOT Act and Overreach Fears

The post-9/11 era is, in large part, defined by a greater fear of government intrusion in the private lives of Americans. While the PATRIOT Act is well into its second decade of life, it is the provisions renewed in 2011 that give the government the most strength to keep track of terrorism suspects. Congress renewed sections allowing government investigations to acquire “roving wiretap”–– court orders that focus on the person rather than the technology—meaning whatever telephone or computer that suspect is using is covered by the order, rather than just individual numbers. It also allows more liberty in the wiretapping of non-citizen suspects and seizing tangible evidence. Ideally, these provisions allow for an expansion of intelligence powers into the investigation of lone wolf operations. The ACLU reacted by decrying the “pernicious impact of the intrusive provisions at stake,” and calling for an end to the erosion of civil liberties.

Surveillance Did Not Prevent Boston Terror Attacks

The ACLU was not alone in this assessment. One argument in their favor is that the provisions of the PATRIOT Act seemed to leave the government doing little to nothing to prevent the Boston terror attacks. Despite the FBI interviewing the elder bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the request of the Russian government, there seemed to be no leads about the man or his younger brother coming into law enforcement shortly before the attacks. This does little to impugn the idea of expanded intelligence activities or the power of the PATRIOT Act to deprive individuals of their civil liberties. If the government was not using their expanded powers to further investigate an individual like Tsarnaev, for whom the act appears almost custom written, maybe the problem is not the overuse of intelligence powers to infringe on anyone’s rights. The “lone wolf provision” failed.

More Civil Liberties Violations, Less Crime?

Conversely, the idea of cameras patrolling all public places seems rightfully Orwellian and it did little to stop the attacks. Cases of civil liberties violations erupted almost immediately after the passing of the act, including unwarranted cell and location searches on private property. Cameras and bugs are only the tip of the iceberg in this discussion. Such widespread approval for more of the same could lead to more civil and criminal violations against individuals in the realm of privacy. Whether such violations would have result in any concrete improvement in national security operations is anyone’s guess. The inability to confirm concrete improvement in our law enforcement and intelligence operations, perhaps more than the proof of violations themselves, argue against such enthusiasm for new surveillance.

The Case for Trying the Boston Marathon Suspects in Massachusetts.

Several weeks after the harrowing events that engulfed the Boston Marathon this year, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is set to face in federal court two counts that encompass the scope of his barbarous acts: one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, and one count of using an explosive device in the malicious destruction of property. He will and should be tried in federal court for this act of terror, but that reality should not allow Massachusetts, a state well equipped to try terrorism cases, to be excluded from the scene.

A Massachusetts Jury Should Have State Law at Its Disposal

While innocent until proven guilty, the younger Tsarnaev was found in large part thanks to the FBI’s diligent work in using surveillance cameras and photographic evidence. The odds of acquittal here appear slim. Although there certainly is a federal case to be made against anyone who uses a weapon of mass destruction to kill Americans, the people of Massachusetts should have their day in court, too—especially given the legal infrastructure in the state against terrorism.

Massachusetts State Law is Armed to Fight Terror

In the wake of the heartbreaking events of September 11, 2001, the Massachusetts legislature convened and passed an anti-terror bill a year later. The statute, An Act Providing Against Terrorism, amends a number of areas within the statutory code to allow for broader definitions various items. It puts tighter restrictions on fireworks manufacturers, adding provisions for “hoax substances” in addition to explosive devices. It also provides for incarceration of individuals for use or development of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.  The relevant provision in this case, should prosecutors choose to go forward, would be section 148 of the General Laws §12, which, after this amendment, reads: “No building or structure shall be used for the manufacturing or storage of explosive materials without a permit issued by the marshal.” There is certainly no reason to believe that the Tsarnaev household had a permit to be manufacturing explosives. With that clear, this provision allows for, in the event of conviction, two years imprisonment or $5,000 in fines just for having one explosive. The provisions also allow for a charge to someone who causes another to believe that an explosive device is in a public area—a potential charge depending on what authorities discover about the recently arrested associates of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Beyond Terrorism: Murder Charges

But these provisions are merely proof that Massachusetts’s legislators intended to provide for the judiciary to be able to handle such complex terrorism cases. That does not make their intent that this be the exclusive means of prosecution. Here, the major crime to be tried is the murder of several individuals, children, and the battery of nearly one hundred more. These charges are state charges, and as such will not get to go before a federal jury. There may not be a significant difference in outcome here, but symbolically, there appears to be no reason to deprive the people of Boston the chance to try Tsarnaev for mass murder.

Taxi Cab Fraud in Boston?

Bostonians hopping into taxis to get from place to place have far larger concerns than getting there on time, according to an exclusive report the Boston Globe released this month. The great majority of cabs in the city, owned in large part by Boston Cab, is woefully underinsured and routinely leaves accident victims to their own devices in their medical bills.

Reforms Currently On Standby

The Globe reports that efforts to reform the current legal framework have mostly fallen to the wayside, though accident victims are working together to organize for reform.

The greatest problem with the current system is twofold: cab companies are permitted to purchase only a fraction of what a private citizen would have to in automobile insurance, and cab companies have fragmented themselves to oblivion so as to avoid paying premiums on insurance or being held legally liable in the event of an accident.

Taxi Insurance Minimums Much Lower Than Private Cars’

The article focuses mostly on Boston Cab’s enterprise, run by its owner Edward Tutunjian, as it is responsible for the largest number of cabs in Boston. According to the Globe, about 80% of taxis in Massachusetts have $20,000 worth of insurance on them, nowhere near enough for a major accident or personal injury lawsuit. The state legally requires only that much insurance on each vehicle, far less than the legally mandated minimum for private cars, though the Globe notes that statistics show taxis are about seven times more likely to have an accident than a regular car. This is also less insurance than that required on smaller vehicles like motorcycles. This is also significantly less than in other parts of the country for taxis. For example, New York City requires $100,000 on each commercial vehicle.

Boston Cab Avoiding Paying Premiums

While most of the aforementioned is publicly available, the exclusive report focuses on Tutunjian’s practice of self-insuring the cabs by depositing money in state accounts, rather than paying premiums. In addition, the cabs are franchised to their drivers in many instances, which places Boston Cab behind the corporate veil and prevents victims from successfully suing the greater corporate entity. Rather than suing Boston Cab, a victim is led to believe the responsible entity is a far smaller corporation or partnership which does not have the resources to pay beyond what their minimal insurance covers.

Despite Outrage, Not Illegal for Cabs to Avoid Premiums

This practice is not illegal, just as the small insurance rates are not. The article reports that, while many lawyers in the state have attempted to pierce the corporate veil and target Boston Cab directly, they have yet to be successful. Attempts to attract the attention of legislators and increase the mandatory insurance minimum to reasonable levels have also failed, with several victims telling the paper they feel neglected and ignored despite continuing to pressure their representatives to address the problem.

The Globe has published their exposé in three parts of several pages each, hopefully contributing to the attention the taxi issue has increasingly received from the legal community. Without legislative action, however, it is difficult to see a resolution to this situation, as these corporate and insurance practices are entirely within the realm of the law, leaving accident victims with little recourse outside of a sympathetic jury.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Miranda 5th Amendment vs. Public Safety Exception

Every person has the right under the United States Constitution to remain silent and not to incriminate themselves.  The Fifth Amendment states,

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Essentially, the court has interpreted the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution to require police to give a suspect his Miranda rights in most situations before asking questions.  It is so engrained in our society that most people believe that a person must be given Miranda rights in every situation.  If you ask most people in the street, they will be able to recite the Miranda rights verbatim.  However, the police are not required to give Miranda rights in every situation.  The police need to give Miranda if the statement is made under custodial interrogation.  The suspect doesn’t need to be in actual handcuffs to be considered a custodial interrogation. 

Now when it comes to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, seeing that he was officially arrested and placed in handcuffs, it will be difficult to argue that it isn’t custodial interrogation. The 5th Amendment rights of a suspect are taken so seriously that only a few narrow exceptions are allowed by the courts.  One such exception is known as the public safety exception.  If the situation is so serious that the police need to get answers to protect the general public from an imminent immediate threat that would cause grave risk to public safety, the police may forego Miranda rights. 

So in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Boston Marathon bombing case, the court could reason that there was as imminent immediate threat to the public safety as the police were trying to determine if there were other explosives in the city.  Therefore, the authorities may question Dzhokhar Tsarnaev about the existence of other bombs or weapons they may have placed throughout the city.  If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made any statements under those circumstances, the statements may be used as incriminating evidence against him at trial.  If the court rules that there was a public safety exception the court may allow the incriminating statement in even without the suspect being given his Miranda rights.  At some point, when there is no longer an imminent or immediate threat to public safety, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be given his Miranda rights. If the court deems that there is no longer a threat, the court may suppress any statements Dzhokhar Tsarnaev makes from that point on if the police never gives him Miranda rights.

Contrary to what many people believe, (read more about this in my previous blog about Miranda rights and dismissing a case) failure to give a person Miranda rights does not lead to a dismissal of a criminal case. If the court finds that a person’s rights of self incrimination under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution were violated, the court may suppress any statements that the suspect makes to the police.  In Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case, the authorities have a lot of evidence against him.  There are reports that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev admitted to the owner of the carjacked Mercedes that he was the bomber of the Boston Marathon.  Seeing that the owner of the car is not the police, the owner obviously doesn’t have to give Dzhokhar Tsarnaev any Miranda rights.  Therefore, his admission to the owner of the Mercedes would still be admissible regardless if his statements to the police are suppressed. 

Even though admissions to the authorities are often times very useful in the prosecution of criminal cases, it is unlikely to have a significant affect ton Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s criminal case.  In the end, the US Attorney’s Office has a lot of evidence against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and don’t need his statements to convict him on the charges. 

Boston Marathon Suspect in Custody and the Investigation

The Boston Marathon, the iconic event in Massachusetts will never be the same after last Monday.  After a week of mayhem the suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has finally been caught in the back of a boat in Watertown.  The US Justice Department officially charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on his hospital bed with using a weapon of mass destruction.  The 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arraigned at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center under armed guard still listed under serious condition. 

The big question now is what happens from this point on?  The legal process has started, but it far from the end.  The first thing that the US Attorney’s office needs to do is to finish their investigation of the case.  Streets in Watertown are still quarantined off and there is still a lot of evidence that needs to be gathered.  As many can see from the pictures posted online, the FBI will mark each piece of evidence and take as many pictures of the crime scene as possible.  Each shell casing will be marked by an ID card and carefully cataloged as not to ruin the investigation.  Once all of the evidence is marked, collected and catalogued it will be turned over to the forensic teams to for analysis.  By collecting the evidence in this manner the FBI not only hopes that it will help with the prosecution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but it will also hopefully shed some light on where the brothers got their funding, firearms, and materials for the explosives. 

The FBI isn’t just collecting evidence from the crime scenes, but has also expanded their search in other areas.  On Sunday, the FBI searched UMASS Dartmouth.  Once the authorities learned that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a student at UMASS the campus was shut down.  Later, the FBI searched Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dormitory room and found a jacket that seemed to match the jacket worn by the second bomber in the surveillance video.  There have also been reports that the FBI has also searched the older brother’s home in Cambridge and the aunt’s house out of state. 

Other than collecting physical evidence, the FBI and other agencies will try to talk to as many witnesses as possible.  The FBI will continue to interview eyewitnesses of the crime, people who may have known Dzhokhar Tsarnaev previously, and any people they believe may have helped them in committing the crime. 

One may wonder why the FBI would continue their investigation even with all the evidence mounted against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  One of the reasons is to ensure that the US Attorney’s office has the strongest case possible against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Another reason is that the US Attorney’s office can use this opportunity to try to learn more about the suspect to try to get at his motivation.  The FBI will also try to talk to witnesses to see if there are any more possible threats that have been planned.

Authorities have told us that the threat to Massachusetts is over, but they also know that the work has just begun.  Because of the substantial amount of evidence in this case, it may take several months if not years to sift through all of the information.  The authorities hope that they can get Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to talk and tell them about the crimes.  However, as of right now the reports states that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cannot speak and can only communicate through written words and head nodding.   If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev regains his abilty to speak, he may still choose to leave everyone in the dark.  In the end, unless Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is willing to honestly tell the entire story, the authorities may never know all the details and their motivation behind their heinous deed.

Crime in Boston Drops During Winter Months

Finally, a silver lining to this year’s extraordinarily frigid Boston winter: a double-digit crime drop in the first three months of 2013. According to the Boston Globe, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis announced a 15% drop in crime generally from January to March 2013 when compared to the activity the year before. While gun-related crimes did see a spike during this same time, the statistics are being heralded a victory for the city, one Davis credits to a surge in community crime watch groups and criminals just not feeling like getting muddled up in all that snow.

“We’ve certainly had a lot of snow this year, and that keeps people inside,” Davis announced, which, despite skeptical first instincts, makes plenty of sense. The sorts of crimes reported on the decline range from burglary and larceny to vehicle theft and rape—crimes that involve being outside, running, or carrying large burdens. Apparently car thieves didn’t want to bother risking the time it takes to dig a car out of a Boston-sized storm this year. The Globe breaks down the crime drop as follows:

Between Jan. 1 and March 18 this year, there were seven killings, compared with eight in the same period in 2012, according to police department statistics. Rapes and attempted rapes dropped by 25 percent; robbery by 7 percent; aggravated assaults by 16 percent; burglary by 8 percent; larceny by 17 percent; and vehicle theft by 14 percent.

The weather explanation also holds when given the fact that non-fatal shootings are up 20% and firearm-related arrests saw an 11% increase, according to the Globe, assuming the same people who have given up on stealing cars during the winter are attempting to find alternate sources of income. With this in mind, the police department announced plans for a heightened anti-crime initiative as the city begins to thaw, citing the coming summer months as traditionally the most problematic.

Lies from Punxsutawney Phil aside, Boston residents have plenty to applaud themselves for on the tail of this new study. Davis explained the increased gun violence in the Globe as “retaliatory action,” a symptom itself of the greater effort both police and residents in neighborhood watch groups are putting into fighting criminals. More than one hundreds crime watch groups were formed in 2012, almost doubling the amount in the city, and Mayor Thomas Menino noted that police officers were beginning to specialize further in neighborhoods, actively becoming part of the people they police rather than making casual and distant rounds about town. That knowledge is reflected in the drop in crime, he asserted.

Despite the positive news for the city, the drop in crime has sparked criticism from civil rights groups who note the incongruity between said drop and the exponential increase in construction of prisons and inmate population. The research group MassINC released a report last month condemning the tripling of inmate population since 1980. The group also announced their research found Massachusetts to have a higher recidivism rate than several other states, a rate that costs the state $150 million more than taxpayers would otherwise have to contribute to keeping repeat criminals behind bars. That the criticism of the police force is now about having more prisons than criminals to fill them is undeniably a step forward, however, even if in part thank to a season of solid Nor’easters.

Identity Theft in Boston: Local Scandal Reminds us to Protect Ourselves

According to one 2012 Department of Justice study, about 8,571,900 Americans are victims of identity theft or fraud each year.  This crime that’s often simply described as the fraudulent misuse of a person’s banking, credit card or other personal identity information  affects approximately 7 percent of households each year.  The average cost of each incident of identity theft is about $4,930 and the entire country suffers about $13.2 billion in cumulative financial losses each year.

Massachusetts headlines carry stories about identity fraud quite regularly, including one recent story about an incident in Allston. These types of stories are important because they should remind all of us to regularly monitor all of our financial transactions and stand ready to become proactive when we discover any irregularities.                               

Alleged Liquor Store Fraud and Identity Theft Incidents

One recent story involved Blanchard’s Liquor Store in Allston. According to the Boston Police Department (BPD), there’s an ongoing investigation into multiple consumer complaints about credit card and banking fraud occurring at the store. A spokesperson for Blanchard’s claims the store has been victimized by some type of “malware” inserted into its credit and debit card transactions.

Customers claiming their credit and banking information has been compromised by shopping at Blanchard’s said they’ve since discovered fraudulent purchases on their accounts elsewhere in Allston — and even in at least one other state. The FBI, Secret Service and independent IT consultants are all working with the BPD on this investigation.  

All of those defrauded in this liquor store incident now realize that they must do more to carefully monitor all of their transactions, always looking for irregularities.  

Five Important Ways to Guard Against Identity Theft

Before a bank or credit card company ever needs to call you about suspected fraud or misuse of your funds via identity theft, the Massachusetts’ Attorney General’s Office suggests you practice the following safety rules on a daily basis.     

  1. Never carry your social security card in your purse or wallet and only take the credit card(s) you’ll need for any one specific outing;
  2. Always keep an accurate list of all the addresses and phone numbers for your banking institutions and credit card companies at home so you can immediately contact them whenever you suspect fraud;
  3. When paying bills through the mail, always personally deposit your mail in your local post office’s outgoing mailbox and never trust other unsecure mailboxes. Keep a list of all bills you’ve mailed along with the dates;
  4. Consider requesting a randomly assigned “S” number for your Massachusetts driver’s license. This will allow you to avoid giving out your social security information each time you must show your license to anyone you’re paying by check;
  5. Carefully review all of your banking and credit card statements each month, looking for any irregularities and unfamiliar transactions.

Once you discover any signs of identity theft or fraud, you must take several immediate steps to safeguard your identity and prevent additional crimes. Here are a few of those steps summarized for you.

First Steps to Take Upon Discovering You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

  • Immediately contact the fraud department of all of your credit card companies and tell them what you’ve discovered. Make sure they place an immediate “freeze” on your account, along with a Fraud Alert;
  • Call your bank and any other financial institutions you conduct business with on a regular basis and tell them what you’ve discovered. Also, ask them to also place a “freeze” on any accounts that are currently in jeopardy of abuse;
  • Since Massachusetts law considers identity theft a crimeM.G.L. c. 266, s. 37E), you must immediately file a police report with your local department;
  • Order copies of all of your credit reports and begin monitoring them closely until you’re certain that all identity theft issues have been resolved. Also, help each of the credit reporting agencies create a proper Identity Theft Report and place it on your account;
  • Review all of the added steps suggested by the Federal Trade Commission on their website that can help you begin fully protecting yourself from further fraud;
  • Consider immediately contacting a private attorney to make sure you’re doing all that’s necessary to protect your rights.

Criminal Harassment Laws in Massachusetts

Criminal harassment in Massachusetts is a very serious charge that carries severe penalties.

But unlike the harassment you may think of in the everyday context, criminal harassment that can result in jail time involves much more than simply annoying behavior or even rude conduct.

Instead, criminal harassment generally involves a pattern of acts made against someone that causes that person substantial emotional distress. (M.G.L. c. 265, § 43A). For example, criminal harassment can include terrorizing late-night phone calls, tormenting and endless text messages, and a series of lewd and disturbing emails. 

Typically, criminal harassment in Massachusetts is comprised of four elements.

  • The person accused of the crime must have knowingly engaged in a pattern of conduct or series of acts directed against a specific individual. A “pattern of conduct” is often interpreted to mean that the defendant has engaged in at least three incidents of harassment. So in most cases, a single harassing act would not be enough to constitute criminal harassment.

  • The acts of harassment must be so serious as to cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress. “Substantial emotional distress” means much more than making someone feel uneasy, nervous, or unhappy. Instead, substantial emotional distress generally means that the defendant’s actions would have created a significant and considerable amount of emotional distress to a reasonable person, as opposed to someone who is overly sensitive.

  • The victim must have actually been seriously alarmed by the defendant’s conduct. A hypothetical injury to the victim would not be enough. This is true even if the harassing conduct would have caused serious alarm in most people, but not with the victim.

  • The defendant engaged in the harassing acts willfully and maliciously. Generally, this means that the act was done intentionally, without justification, and that a reasonable person would have foreseen that harm would have resulted from the conduct.

     

Only if all four elements are met, can someone be convicted of criminal harassment in Massachusetts. As you can see, the crime is quite complex and involves many different layers of analysis.

If you are convicted of criminal harassment, you face very severe penalties. Someone convicted of the crime for the first time faces up to two and one-half years in a house of corrections as well as a possible $1,000 fine.

Repeat offenders, or those who have previously been convicted of criminal stalking (M.G.L. c. 265, § 43), face two and one-half years in a house of corrections or ten years in a state prison.

Within these guidelines, a judge may consider several factors in determining a defendant’s specific sentence including the amount of harm caused to the victim, any remorse shown, past criminal history, and other relevant factors.

Because of the steep penalties associated with criminal harassment in Massachusetts, it is important that you work with a criminal defense attorney if you are charged with the crime. An experienced attorney can work on the elements of your defense, explain your options, and help keep you out of jail.