FALSE STATEMENTS AND REFUSAL TO COOPERATE IS NOT ASSISTANCE REQUIRED FOR CHARGE OF ACCESSORY AFTER FACT

In Commonwealth v. Rivera the Supreme Judicial Court stated that “the defendant’s false statements to the police and refusal to cooperate … did not constitute the ‘aid’ or ‘assistance’ required to find him guilty as an accessory after the fact to murder under” the Massachusetts statute.   The basic facts of the case are as follow:  After socializing with friends, the defendant “was returning home with Hector Soto and Josue Santos in a motor vehicle driven by Santos. They stopped at a convenience store…. Soto began arguing in the parking lot with” the victim and the two exchanged punches. “The defendant then stepped outside the vehicle and joined the fight to assist Soto. During the course of the fight, Soto stabbed the victim. Soto and the defendant then returned to the vehicle, and Santos quickly drove away…. The victim later died from his stab wound.” A week later, two police detectives (Mitchell and Walsh) interviewed the defendant about the incident. “The defendant told the detectives that he had seen the news on television and knew that a young man had been killed…. When Mitchell asked the defendant where he was at the time of the incident, he said he was at ‘Rashad’s grandmother’s house’ in … Hyde Park … with some of his friends. He said that he had driven there alone, returned home alone, and did not stop anywhere on his way home…. When Mitchell asked whom he was with in Hyde Park,” the defendant “responded that he usually spends time with Joel, Paul, and Pat. Recognizing that ‘Joel’ was a reference to Soto, the detectives pressed the defendant for more information about Joel…. When Walsh asked the defendant if he had” Joel’s telephone number, the defendant said that he did, but he declined to provide the number because “it feels like the way you’re doing it is, … whoever I give you, that’s who you’re going to go after, no matter what…. I’m not into just involving other people … and this is serious.’ Walsh replied, ‘If you don’t want to give it to us, that’s fine. That’s up to you.” At the joint trial of Soto and the defendant, Soto was convicted of second-degree murder and the defendant was convicted as an accessory after the fact to murder.  The Accessory After th Fact statute provides that “whoever, after the commission of a felony, harbors, conceals, maintains or assists the principal felon … or gives such offender any other aid, knowing that he has committed a felony … with intent that he shall avoid or escape detention, arrest, trial or punishment, shall be an accessory after the fact.” On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.

The SJC agreed, stating that “the evidence at trial was sufficient to prove … that the defendant lied to the police when he said that he drove home alone on the day of the killing, and when he claimed he knew Soto only by the name ‘Joel.’ The evidence also established that the defendant declined to provide the detectives with Soto’s telephone number after they specifically requested it.” However, “that evidence did not suffice to prove the element of aid or assistance that is required to prove that the defendant was an accessory after the fact to murder.”  The Court analyzed the statute in the context of the common-law origins of the crime, and it concluded that the defendant could not be deemed to have provided aid or assistance where he did not give the police “[1] a false alibi or comparable information that would exculpate the principal felon (here, the killer), [2] a false narrative of the crime that would give the principal a defense, or [3] false information to assist in the principal’s escape.” The Court noted that “the defendant’s false statements about driving home alone without stopping provided only himself with a false alibi — it did not exculpate Soto. And by claiming no knowledge of the crime, apart from what he had heard on the news, and by stating that he knew Soto only by the name ‘Joel,’ the defendant also did not give a false narrative of the crime … that could have provided Soto with a defense.”

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