Civil Rights Violations Charges in MA
If you are accused of violating the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, you may be facing up to 10 years in prison. Call us today at (781) 797-0555 for a free phone consultation.
The law prohibits anyone from interfering with another person’s free exercise of a right or privilege granted by the United States or Massachusetts Constitutions. In clearer terms, a civil rights violation occurs when:
- The alleged victim was exercising a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or of the United States;
- You either injured, intimidated, interfered with, oppressed or threatened the exercise or enjoyment of that legally protected right by the alleged victim, or attempted to do so;
- You did so by using force or by threatening to use force; and
- You did so willfully.
In order to convict you, the prosecution needs to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.
Definitions of Each Element
Right or Privilege
A right or privilege is a behavior or interest that is protected by any provision of the Massachusetts or United States Constitution, or any federal or state law.
Injure,Intimidate, Interfere With, Oppressor Threaten
To injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress or threaten another person in the free exercise or enjoyment of a right or privilege means to impede or prevent the full and free benefit of that right. The alleged victim need not be completely prevented from exercising the right, just hampered in exercising it. To “intimidate” means to put in fear. To “interfere” means to hinder or meddle in the affairs of another. To “oppress” means to use authority or power abusively or excessively. To “threaten” means to express an intention to harm someone or their property. This element is satisfied if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you negatively affected the alleged victim’s rights in any one of these ways.
To prove that you attempted to injure, intimidate or interfere with the alleged victim’s rights, the prosecution must prove two things: that you took a step toward interfering with the alleged victim’s rights, and that you did so with the specific intention of interfering with those rights. Neither intent alone nor making preparations is enough by itself to constitute an attempt. There must be an overt act designed to interfere with the alleged victim’s right, which came reasonably close to doing so.
Force or Threatened Force
“Force” means physical force, directed either against a person or their property. The amount of physical force used does not matter. Even a minimal amount of force is enough to satisfy this element.
A threat of force is an expression of an intention to use force, and must be communicated to the person threatened. It must also seem to any reasonable person standing in the place of the threatened person that the person making the threat actually had the ability to carry it out.
The act(s) must have been done willfully. An act is willful if it was done either with the specific purpose of interfering with the alleged victim’s enjoyment of his or her interests protected their rights, or it was done because the alleged victim had exercised that right.
The prosecution does not have to prove that you knew that you were violating the law, or that you knew that the right is specifically protected by the Constitution or laws of Massachusetts or the United States. The prosecution is required to prove that you acted with the particular purpose of interfering with the alleged victim’s enjoyment of the interests that are protected by that right.
Civil Rights Violation is a specific intent crime, which involves two determinations:
The first is a legal determination, whether the right at issue is clearly defined by law. The second prong is whether you committed the act with the intent to deprive the alleged victim of that right. Both requirements must be met to sustain a conviction.
Examples of rights and privilege protected
There are too many rights to list, but a few common examples are described below.
- Fourteenth Amendment. No state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
- Art. 1 of Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. “All people are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.” Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, art. 1, as amended by art. 106 of the Amendments.
- Education rights. Under Federal and state law, public school students have a right to attend school and to be educated without discrimination or segregation on account of race.
- Employment rights. All people are guaranteed the same right to make and perform employment contracts. The right to work without discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin or ancestry is a right and privilege of all inhabitants of the Commonwealth. It is an unlawful discriminatory practice for any employer or his agent to discriminate against an applicant or employee in compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age or ancestry, or for any person to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce such discrimination.
- Housing rights. The right to own, rent and occupy housing without discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is guaranteed by the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. The right to occupy and enjoy housing is protected against racially motivated interference, whether by the property owners or by third persons unconnected to the property owner.
- Mental patients’ rights. A mental patient has a constitutional right to basically safe and humane living conditions, which includes protection from assaults.
- Personal security rights. All persons have the same right to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of people and property.
- Prisoners’ rights. While officials such as police or corrections officers may use reasonable force to overcome resistance by a person whom they are taking into custody or holding in custody, the constitutional right to due process includes the right not to be subjected to unreasonable, unnecessary or unprovoked force by such officers. Arresting officers may use only such force as is reasonably necessary to effect an arrest or to defend themselves. It is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to hold and physically punish a person and thereby deprive him of liberty without due process of law. Reasonable force is that which an ordinary prudent person would deem necessary under the circumstances.
- Private establishments open to the public. Privately-owned facilities (such as stores, restaurants, taverns, gas stations, theaters and arcades) which are open to the public and which solicit or accept the patronage of the general public are also places of public accommodation covered by the Massachusetts Public Accommodations Law.
- Public accommodations rights. The Massachusetts Public Accommodations Law guarantees all people the full and equal use of all places of public accommodation free from any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, deafness, blindness, ancestry, or any physical or mental disability. Public facilities such as parks, playgrounds, government buildings, public beaches, highways, streets and sidewalks are all places of public accommodation covered by the law.
- Religious exercise rights. The right to free exercise of religion is guaranteed by Articles 2 and 3 of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution and by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This right protects religious worship, religious practices, meetings for those purposes, and ownership and use of buildings and other property for religious purposes. It protects the religious activities of individuals, congregations, and their spiritual leaders.
- Travel Rights.
Under the U.Ss Constitution, all people have a right to travel freely between the states, and to use the highways and other avenues of interstate commerce in doing so. Public transportation vehicles (such as MBTA buses, subway cars, and streetcars), bus stops, and subway stations and platforms are all places of public accommodation under the Massachusetts Public Accommodations Law.
- Voting rights. The right to elect public officials and to be elected to public office is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution, United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 314, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 1035 (1941), and by Article 9 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, Batchelder v. Allied Stores Int’l, 388 Mass. 83, 445 N.E.2d 590 (1983).
If you are facing allegations of Civil Rights Violations, or any other charge in Massachusetts, call us at (781) 797-0555 for a free phone consultation today. Simons Law Office is located in downtown Boston and offers high-quality criminal defense representation in every Massachusetts courthouse in the state.