The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld the conviction of a man who was found guilty of assault and battery with a knife after his friend stabbed the victim. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Lugo.
When the bars emptied in Boston on April 12, 2012, the defendant and his friend, Javier Fernandez, decided to pick a fight in a parking garage. There was a line of cars waiting to leave the garage and there was a group of men standing around the cars. The defendant and Fernandez approached the group of men and began arguing with the victim. During the argument, the victim’s friend suggested everyone go home and touched Fernandez’s arm. Fernandez took this as a sign of disrespect and briefly retreated to his vehicle. When he returned, he stabbed the victim under the armpit. The victim announced he had been stabbed and began running away with the assistance of his friend. Fernandez and the defendant began chasing the victim, who eventually fell down. As the victim was laying on the ground, Fernandez continued to stab at him with the knife and the defendant stomped on him. A witness said it looked like the defendant was trying to extinguish a fire by stomping on the victim. The attack lasted a couple of minutes until security guards arrived and ordered the men to stop fighting. Fernandez then threw the knife under a car and the defendant tried to walk quickly away from the scene. Both men were apprehended and arrested. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of assault and battery with a knife.
Although there was no evidence the defendant ever possessed the knife, he was charged with stabbing the victim under a joint venture theory. A defendant can be convicted of a crime as a joint venturer when he participated in a meaningful way in the commission of the crime and did so with the same intent as the principal. The most common example of a joint venturer is the person who is the getaway driver during a bank robbery. Even though he never sets foot inside the bank and might not possess a weapon, the driver can be convicted of robbery by aiding and assisting the guy who actually holds up the teller. In this case, the defendant argued there was insufficient evidence for the jury to have found he knew Fernandez was armed with a knife (which is a requirement under a joint venture theory). The Appeals Court disagreed and ruled the evidence supported the defendant’s conviction. The Court pointed out that the defendant and Fernandez were friends and had spent the evening together before arriving at the parking garage. The defendant was in a position to watch Fernandez stab the victim the first time and attempt to continue to stab him as he ran away. Further, as the victim was on the ground, the defendant was stomping on him as Fernandez was continuing to try to stab him. These facts supported the conclusion that the defendant knew about the knife as he participated in the attack.
While mere presence at the scene of a crime is not enough to sustain a criminal conviction, a person who offers any aid to someone committing a crime is criminally liable as a joint venturer. The result of joint venture prosecutions is often a very minor player ends up charged with a very serious crime.