Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Refuses to Allow Sex Offender to Withdraw Guilty Pleas

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today rejected a convicted sex offender’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas to sexually assaulting three women in the town of Montague, which is located in the northwest part of the Commonwealth.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Lastowski

The prosecutor told a district court judge that if the case went to trial, the Commonwealth would be able to prove three distinct sexual assaults.  First, on May 7, 2013, the defendant approached a woman at her apartment complex.  He was holding an alcoholic drink with one hand and he squeezed the woman’s breast with his other hand.  He told the victim he liked to squeeze women’s breasts when he was drinking, and the assault left the woman bruised.  A second woman who lived at the apartment complex told the police that a few months prior, she asked the defendant, who had been standing near the back door to her apartment, to move.  The defendant then purposefully rubbed his elbow on her breast.  When the woman voiced her displeasure, the defendant accused her of liking the assault and said drinking alcohol makes him “touchy-feely.”  A third woman who lived in a nearby apartment complex said the defendant had knocked on her door six or seven times and requested a cigarette.  When the woman answered the door, the defendant would grab her breast and, on one occasion, her groin area.  Rather than go to trial, the defendant pled guilty to three counts of indecent assault and battery.  The judge accepted the defendant’s recommendation that he be placed on probation for one year (the prosecutor was requesting a longer period of probation).  The sentencing judge imposed several conditions of probation but did not tell the defendant he would be required to register as a sex offender as a result of the convictions.

Approximately one year after pleading guilty, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas.  He claimed his attorney also did not advise him he would need to register as a sex offender, and he therefore suffered from ineffective assistance of counsel.  The sentencing judge denied the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas and the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed.  To prove an ineffective assistance claim in Massachusetts, the defendant must establish: (1) his attorney’s behavior was measurably worse than what would be expected of an ordinary fallible attorney; and (2) his attorney’s lousy performance likely deprived him of an otherwise available and substantial ground of defense.  In this case, the SJC ruled the defendant failed to establish prejudice required by the second prong of the test.  The Court concluded the defendant did not have an available and substantial defense to the charges.  The Commonwealth had a strong case and the defendant would have faced a substantial possibility of incarceration if he had been convicted at trial.  Further, the defendant did not identify any special circumstances in his case to prove he would not have pled guilty if he had known about the requirement to register as a sex offender.

Therefore, the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas was denied and he will be required to register as a sex offender.