Many people not directly involved in the Massachusetts criminal justice system ordinarily do not hear much about what happens after certain cases are publicized. Media coverage of criminal cases, whether a murder, armed robbery, or drunk driving accident is highlighted almost daily. What the public only typically hears, however, is when someone is arrested, or when a ‘high-profile’ crime goes to trial. If someone is convicted of a high-profile crime, that’s front-page headlines all over the Massachusetts media.
Well, what about the thousands of other criminal cases that are prosecuted annually…the ones that don’t receive the extensive media attention? People might wonder, but don’t often realize, that criminal conviction rates for cases tried in the Superior Court Departments in Boston and throughout Massachusetts are not as high as you might expect.
In data recently released by the Massachusetts Office of the Jury Commissioner, it is reported that in 2009, the criminal conviction rate in Suffolk County and Middlesex County for criminal cases that went to trial was only 62%. By comparison, the criminal conviction rate in Norfolk County was 59%, and Worcester County was 34%.
Because these criminal conviction rate numbers for Massachusetts counties consider a guilty verdict on at least one felony as a conviction, one might argue that the criminal conviction rates are actually lower than those reported. For example, if someone is charged with 5 felony indictments, and the criminal defendant is only convicted of 1 of them, then that is considered a conviction – even though the defendant may only have been convicted of the ‘least serious’ of those felonies.
One might ask then, what do these numbers mean? Are the police and prosecutors not doing their jobs; or are the defense lawyers trying these criminal cases that much ‘better’?
In the larger scheme of things, these numbers, in my opinion, generally mean absolutely nothing…that’s because each individual criminal case that is brought to trial in Massachusetts, at the end of the day, stands on its own merits.
Some might argue, however, that the disparity of the criminal conviction rate between Worcester County and that of Suffolk County or others represents a direct correlation between police investigative techniques, or even District Attorneys indicting cases that might not be very strong, and then just having a jury figure it out. This is what some are saying has happened in Worcester County, resulting in the 34% conviction rate in Superior Court trials.
Practicing extensively in Suffolk County, I can tell you that more often that not, the District Attorney’s Office will sometimes not present a case to the Grand Jury for indictment if it is an apparently weak case. Rather, the charges might be ‘reduced’ or ‘broken down’ and the case remains at the District Court level. Those ‘stronger’ felony cases, however, are indeed pushed to indictment. For example, someone could be criminal charged with Unarmed Robbery, a felony that must be resolved in the Superior Court. If the District Attorney’s Office elects not to present the case to a Grand Jury and seek a criminal indictment, the charge could be reduced to Larceny from a Person and remain in the District Court.
Despite the ‘selectiveness’ of not always seeking to indict every single criminal defendant initially charged with a felony offense, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office still has only managed a conviction rate of 62%. Although I don’t like to put a percentage on a client’s chance of obtaining an acquittal at trial, many present and former clients have expressed to me that they would definitely take their case to trial if they knew the odds were even close to 50/50.
At the end of the day, a criminal defendant charged with any crime should not rely on statistics as a measure on whether or not to take his case to trial. The case should be evaluated thoroughly by his or her criminal defense attorney and the strengths and weaknesses of the case should be laid out in helping the defendant make an informed decision on whether or not to proceed to trial.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime in Massachusetts, you should have your criminal case evaluated by an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
With many years as a Boston Criminal Attorney and having handled thousands of criminal charges throughout Massachusetts, I recognize the importance and impact of what criminal charges can have on you and your family. For that reason, I make myself available 24/7 and offer a Free Consultation to discuss your criminal case with me.
To schedule an appointment to discuss your criminal case, you can e-mail or call me directly at 617-325-9500.