CRIMINAL DEFENSE

What is a crime? It is a social harm that the law makes punishable. There are two basic kinds of crime- felonies and misdemeanors. How do they differ? A felony is punishable by death, or a year or more of imprisonment. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes punishable by fine, forfeiture, penalty, or a brief confinement somewhere other than prison, like county jail or house of correction.

Criminal lawsuits are initiated by the government, by a prosecutor, either federal or state. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That means the prosecutor must prove the case to the jury such that each juror is sure the defendant is guilty “to a moral certainty.” This differs from civil lawsuits wherein the standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence,” or just tilt the scales 51% in your favor.

You have certain rights when accused of a crime. Among them are the right to remain silent, the right to a speedy trial, to confront the witnesses against you, to have the government provide a way for you to make witnesses come testify on your behalf, and the right to an attorney at all critical stages of your case. Most importantly, you have the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty by the government beyond a reasonable doubt. The criminal defense attorney’s job is to protect your rights while your case is open.

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION

Employment discrimination is a large area of employment law that encompasses discrimination against employees and job applicants based on their race, color, religion, creed, military duty,  national origin, ancestry, sex (gender), sexual orientation, age, handicap status, and genetic information (note that this list is not necessarily comprehensive). Illegal discrimination includes harassment that creates an intimidating, offensive, abusive or hostile work environment for employees, in violation of Massachusetts and Federal employment discrimination laws.

Discrimination occurs when employers (or unions or employment agencies) illegally single out employees or job applicants on the basis of their characteristics. Anti-discrimination laws and related regulations that deal with employment are enforced at the Federal level by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in Massachusetts by the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, M.G.L. c.151B, (the Act), as well as other statutes. The Act’s protections apply when an employer has 6 or more employees. The Massachusetts legislature has specifically added a section to c.151B that outlaws sexual harassment. Note that the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act covers discrimination based on sexual orientation, whereas there is no analogous federal protection.

According to the EEOC, employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants in any aspect of employment, including the following.

  • Hiring and firing
  • Benefits and perks
  • Testing
  • Retirement plans
  • Disability leave
  • Use of company facilities
  • Training and apprenticeship programs
  • Transfers, promotions, layoffs or recalls
  • Recruitment and job advertisements
  • Compensation, assignment or classification

If employers adversely single out employees for reasons that aren’t specifically prohibited by discrimination laws or related regulations, then employees are not protected from those types of employment discrimination. For example, if a boss fires an employee solely because of a general personality conflict that interferes with the working relationship, then it’s not likely to be employment discrimination. That’s because there is no specific “personality conflict” provision that makes it illegal under Massachusetts or Federal discrimination laws. But, if a boss fires an employee solely because the employee turned 40 years old, then it is likely be employment discrimination under Federal law. Age discrimination against employees who are 40 years old or more is outlawed by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

WRONGFUL DEATH – PERSONAL INJURY

Personal injury lawsuits are based on the negligence of the defendant. Wrongful death lawsuits can be negligence based also, but may arise from other types of unjust action on the part of the person or entity being sued. A personal injury suit is brought by the person injured for the resulting damages. Wrongful death suits are brought by the victim’s survivors, who claim entitlement to monetary damages as a result of the improper conduct of the defendant.

A wrongful death claim generally consists of four elements: (1) the death was caused, in whole or part, by the conduct of the defendant; (2) the defendant was negligent or strictly liable for the victim’s death; (3) there is a surviving spouse, children, beneficiaries or dependents; and (4) monetary damages have resulted from the victim’s death.

Personal injury law imposes a variety of duties on all individuals to exercise a reasonable degree of care and caution so as not to cause harm to others. For instance, individuals owe one another the duty to avoid negligent or intentionally wrongful actions, such as reckless speeding when children are present in a school zone. When one of these duties is breached and leads to injury, personal injury law sets the rules by which the victim can recover damages. Personal injury law also establishes the types of damages that can be collected in particular cases, while imposing a specific burden of proof on the plaintiff. The personal injury body of law is remarkably vast, and includes common types of lawsuits such as car accident claims, medical malpractice, defective products, and even dog bite cases.

However, personal injuries don’t even necessarily have to be physical-they could be psychological. Psychological personal injuries are typically caused by psychological trauma associated with life-threatening and/or disfiguring physical injuries, or as a result of witnessing trauma in others, or following personal escape from serious injury following a traumatic event. Before you can collect an award, your personal injury lawyer will have to prove that the defendant is liable. To prove liability, the attorney must also establish negligence.

If there is any failure on your part to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury or damage then there may be comparative (or contributory) negligence, where you and the other party both are at some degree of fault. If you win, you may receive money (an award) to compensate for medical costs, lost wages and lost future earnings as well as possibly for pain and suffering and punitive damages.

POLICE BRUTALITY

Police brutality is a civil rights violation that occurs when a police officer acts with excessive force by using an amount of force on a civilian that is more than necessary. Excessive force used by a law enforcement officer is a violation of a person’s rights under both the U.S. Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. Excessive force is not subject to a precise definition, but it is generally beyond the force a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer would use under the circumstances. Among the legal remedies available to the victim are monetary damages and/ or injunctive relief. Money would compensate the victim for the harm that they have suffered. Injunctions order the other party to start doing something they have not been doing, or to stop doing something they have been doing.

PERSONAL INJURY

Personal injury is a form of civil law that falls under tort law, wherein you are moving the court to give you compensation for a physical or psychological injury you suffered as the result of someone’s negligence. The injury must be to your mind, emotions, or body; must be personal to you. It cannot be an injury to property. For example: if you slip on a banana peel while shopping in the supermarket, personal injury law covers any actual physical harm (broken leg and bruises) you suffered in the fall as well as the humiliation of falling in public, but not the harm of shattering your watch.

The statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is 3 years. That means you must file a lawsuit within 3 years of you forever lose your right to pursue that claim!

If there is any failure on your part to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury then there may be comparative (or contributory) negligence, where you and the other party both are at some degree of fault.

If you win a personal injury lawsuit, you may receive money (an award) to compensate for medical costs, lost wages and lost future earnings as well as possibly for pain and suffering and punitive damages.

DRUNK DRIVING

Driving while drunk is called many things – OUI (operating under the influence), DUI (driving under the influence), and DWI (driving while intoxicated). No matter what you call it, it is dangerous and illegal. The penalties are very serious and can include jail time, fines, outpatient and in-patient treatment programs, and a lengthy driver’s license suspension. If you are convicted of a second OUI/DUI/DWI offense, you face a 60 day mandatory minimum jail sentence or a 14-day in-patient treatment program. Eventually you will be eligible to get your driver’s license back, but you could end up paying thousands of dollars in high-risk insurance premiums.

It’s not only alcohol that the law says can impair your driving. If you are under the influence of prescription drugs or illegal drugs and the police officer arrests you for OUI/DUI/DWI, you face the same potential penalties.