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Leonardo Angiulo: Aaron Hernandez Should Probably Lawyer Up

Monday, June 24, 2013

 

If you were New England Patriots' Aaron Hernandez, would you lawyer up right about now? Photo: Aaron Frutman.

Typically, we hear more about Aaron Hernandez after football season starts. The Patriot's tight end is a dominant force on the field but, according to recent news reports, he's been having an impact off the field as well. Recent discussions in the media have pointed to several issues involving Mr. Hernandez. While we can't know all the facts yet, the issues they present are significant. They are also the type of issues that lawyers are generally helpful with.

First, there is allegedly some issue about a gentleman getting shot and sustaining injury to his face in Florida. And by “allegedly” I mean, Mr. Alexander Bradley filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida seeking damages for negligence and claiming an intentional tort against Mr. Hernandez. Interestingly, this means Mr. Bradley's attorneys claim Mr. Hernandez both intentionally pointed and discharged the firearm as well as handled the firearm negligently. In any event, civil suits are different from criminal cases in a very important way: they are all about money. And if both parties can agree on a settlement figure, the case ends.

Criminal cases are a whole different animal. They are premised on the idea that there should be consequences if a person is proven to have committed, or admits to, wrongdoing. Reports differ on whether, or not, arrest warrants were issued for Mr. Hernandez and other allegations have circulated through various media sources ranging from national publications to local news outlets. I saw one allegation from a sports entertainment website claiming Mr. Hernandez owns the most elaborate doghouse on the planet.

Since we don't have specifics we can be sure of, lets talk in generalities. Lets say, hypothetically speaking, that a person you know is found shot dead approximately a mile from your home adjacent to a car you rented. Lets also say surveillance video from third parties puts the deceased in your neighborhood with two other individuals in the hours prior to the body being discovered. To bring this fact pattern into the 21st century, you own a cell phone and your home has a security system that includes video surveillance. 

These things alone tend to show you might know something about where the deceased was shortly before this incident and what that person was doing before they passed. One of the lines between being a material witness and the participant in a crime is your role in the event. A relevant crime in this hypothetical is known as “accessory before the fact.” The elements of this offense are found in MGL c. 274, §2 and states that those aiding in the commission of a felony by counseling, hiring or otherwise procuring such felony to be committed shall be punished in the same way as the person committing the felony. So, under this law if a person helps another commit a murder then, in Massachusetts, they face life in prison too.

Now, let's say you have this elaborate security system at your home that has video cameras and you go ahead and delete those videos. Or maybe break your phone. And you do these things after the police start asking questions about the deceased. Well, that raises two issues. Preliminarily, if you destroy evidence in connection with a criminal investigation you could be committing the common law, indictable offense known as obstruction of justice. Of course, if you do anything that assists a felon escape detection, arrest, trial or punishment you may become an accessory after the fact.

Like everything else in the law, your intent and your actions defines the offense you could be charged with. What if it was revealed that you destroyed the video to prevent anyone from finding out you were with the deceased at the time of his death. If you knowingly participate in a crime, alone or with others, with the intent required for that offense then you may be guilty of a murder because you aided and abetted the person who pulled the trigger. The destruction of those videos may be introduced at your trial and argued to be evidence of your conciousness of guilt.

The moral of the story is that one family has suffered a tragic loss. What we don't have are essential facts about who is responsible and in what way. Until we do, the presumption of innocence controls how the court of law proceeds. The court of popular opinion, however, operates by very different rules. 

Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or through the firm's website at www.gskandglaw.com.

 

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