In Massachusetts, it is a crime to lie to or mislead a police officer, or otherwise impede a criminal investigation.
Under the Intimidation of a Witness statute, the Massachusetts legislature criminalized conduct where a person willfully misled or lied to a person furthering a criminal investigation with the intent to impede or obstruct justice.
In one recent case, Commonwealth v. Patrick Fortuna, the Massachusetts Appeals court considered a case where the defendant had been shot. While being treated at the hospital, he was interviewed by the police about who had shot him. He told the police that he was shot while walking home and didn’t know by whom, because the shooter had been far away.
During questioning, however, the police officer noticed what appeared to be gunshot residue near his wound and on his clothing. When the officer questioned the defendant about the gunshot residue, the defendant became confrontational and refused to answer any further questions.
At trial, the prosecutor called a forensics experts from the Boston Police crime lab who offered testimony that, based on the chemical testing of the gunshot residue on the defendant’s clothing, he had been shot from a distance of no more than 18 inches. Based on this testimony, a jury then convicted the defendant of Intimidation of a Witness for intentional misleading a criminal investigation.
In considering the defendant’s appeal of his conviction, the Appeals Court ruled that where the defendant’s account differed from the account of the forensic expert, a jury was able to infer that the defendant had lied or intentionally misled police.
It seems almost paradoxical that a person has a right to remain silent by asserting his Privilege Against Self-Incrimination, yet can be prosecuted and sentenced to prison for lying to police for fear of facing criminal prosecution. The better practice, under the law, would be simple to refuse to answer any questions and consult with an attorney.
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