The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today reversed the conviction of a Worcester man who was charged with gunning down a woman during a botched robbery attempt. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Smith.
In August of 2010, the victim was driving her Lexus in Worcester. Witnesses told the police she was a drug dealer. At some point, she stopped her car and allowed the defendant to enter the passenger side. Shortly thereafter, she was shot in the neck. She died several days later after being taken off life support at the hospital. The police found four bags of marijuana in her car along with $250 in cash. An investigation revealed the defendant and several other individuals had plotted to rob the victim after arranging to purchase marijuana from her. The defendant was arrested along with three others, all of whom agreed to testify against the defendant (who was the purported shooter) in exchange for reduced sentences.
When the defendant was arrested, he was transported to the police station. He was 18 years old. Three Worcester cops interrogated him for an hour and 35 minutes and the interview was audio recorded. The cops immediately started lying to the defendant, falsely telling him they had DNA evidence and fingerprint evidence that connected him to the victim’s Lexus. The police also lied about finding the defendant’s eyeglasses at a codefendant’s house. For the first 30 minutes of the interview, the defendant told the cops he didn’t know what they were talking about, until he finally said, “I’m done… I’m done talking. I don’t wanna talk no more.” Instead of immediately stopping the interrogation as the law requires, the cops continued to talk to the defendant and finally goaded him into making inculpatory statements about his involvement in the shooting. The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder by a Worcester Superior Court jury and sentenced to life without parole.
On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court gave the smack down to the Worcester cops who violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. The Court found that the defendant had made a clear, unequivocal invocation of his right to remain silent when he said he was “done” talking. At that point, it was the responsibility of the police to scrupulously honor the defendant’s request to remain silent. Instead, as the Court pointed out, the cops continued interrogating the defendant “almost without a pause,” and failed to remind the defendant of his Miranda rights. The Court concluded the defendant’s statement to the police should have been suppressed and, accordingly, he is entitled to a new trial.
Anyone accused of committing a crime who is considering talking to the police should read this case. The sleazy conduct of the Worcester cops here is not unusual. Cops routinely lie to suspects to make it sound like the case is airtight and appellate courts have repeatedly ruled that confessions will not be suppressed simply because the police lied to the defendant. If the police want to talk to you about anything, consult with a criminal defense attorney first. The police are often more interested in obtaining a confession than knowing the truth.