A Massachusetts jury today found Attorney Chris Spring’s client not guilty of violating a no-abuse provision of a harassment order.
The defendant had been engaged to the complaining witness for several years and they are the parents of two young daughters. Following their breakup, there have been constant problems between them. The defendant and the complaining witness have both accused the other of criminal offenses. They have obtained restraining orders against each other and there is a constant stream of litigation in probate court related to custody and visitation issues. In this case, the complaining witness called the defendant to say she was dropping off their three-year-old at his apartment before going to school. The defendant made it clear he did not want to have any contact with the complaining witness and asked her to stay near her car and allow their daughter to walk up to him by herself. When the complaining witness arrived at the defendant’s apartment, she helped their daughter out of the car and began walking with her toward the defendant. According to the complaining witness, the defendant began screaming and swearing at her, and called her a number of vulgar names. According to the defendant, he asked the complaining witness three times to stop approaching him until finally saying, “get the fuck away from me!” The complaining witness turned around, packed the daughter back into her car seat, and drove away. She reported the incident to the police later in the day.
There was an active harassment prevention order at the time of the altercation which forbade the defendant from abusing the complaining witness. The issue at trial was whether the defendant’s conduct satisfied the legal definition of abuse. Abuse is defined as either: (1) causing or attempting to cause another person physical harm; or (2) placing another person in fear of immediate serious physical harm. The Commonwealth’s theory of the case was the defendant placed the complaining witness in fear of immediate serious physical harm, and the complaining witness testified that she was scared of the defendant’s conduct. During cross-examination, the complaining witness admitted to Attorney Spring she knew the defendant did not want to have contact with her, she never called 911, and the defendant never threatened to harm her. Nevertheless, she insisted the defendant had screamed and sworn at her and she was worried he might do something to hurt her.
Attorney Spring’s client testified and told the jury he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the complaining witness because of their volatile history together. He admitted to swearing at the complaining witness, but only after she ignored his repeated request that she stop walking toward him. Attorney Spring argued to the jury that the defendant’s conduct had not amounted to “abuse” pursuant to the statute’s definition and following several hours of deliberations the jury found his client not guilty. A conviction would have had a particularly harmful consequence for Attorney Spring’s client, who is a college graduate and in the process of applying for a state job (which he undoubtedly would not have received if he had been found guilty).