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Threat to Sue is Witness Intimidation, Not Protected Speech
On October 22, 2014, In an unpublished opinion in Commonwealth v. Simeone, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that a person who threatens to sue a witness in a criminal case with the specific intent to impede or obstruct the witness from participating in a criminal proceeding can be found guilty of Witness Intimidation under G.L. ch. 268 § 13B.
In this case, the defendant in a criminal proceeding admitted to saying to a witness “[w]ait until [your] court date, [I’m] going to make sure [you] get screwed,” and also admitted that he “told her when I was done with my case, I was going to sue her for her house.” The complaining witness testified that the defendant also made claims that he would “come to her house [that night] and that he said he would ‘shoot up my house’”. The Appeals Court determined that even if the jury rejected the disputed statement, the mere threat to sue a witness in a criminal case could be witness intimidation if the “defendant uttered the lawsuit remark with the specific intent to “impede [or] obstruct” the witness from participating in the criminal proceeding. G. L. c. 268, § 13B(1). This determination placed the comment outside of the realm of protected speech.”
The Witness Intimidation statute G.L. ch. 268 § 13B is already very broad. With this additional insight by the Appeals Court, it is clear that the statute will continue to be heavily litigated against the Constitutional rights of free speech.
Lawyers in both our Criminal Defense Group and our Civil Rights Litigation Group review published and unpublished Massachusetts case law every day to ensure that important developments like this are explored and their implications assessed. If you are a citizen or attorney confronted with this complicated area of law, we are glad to offer our thoughts.