This week the Appeals Court held that a Springfield prosecutor improperly instructed a district court jury to “hold the defendant accountable and return a verdict of guilty.”
The female defendant was on trial for violating the terms of a harassment prevention order (M.G.L. c. 258E, Section 9).
The Appeals Court summarizes the pertinent parts of prosecution’s opening and closing arguments as follows:
In the Commonwealth’s opening statement, it told the jury “this case is about accountability or taking the consequences of one’s own actions,” “[t]oday [the defendant is] held accountable,” and “I’m going to ask you to hold the defendant accountable and return a verdict of guilty.” During its closing argument, it stated “[t]his morning I told you that this case was about accountability. Well now I’m asking you to hold the defendant accountable and return a verdict of guilty.”
According to the court,
“[P]rior cases have suggested that holding the defendant accountable is improper language.”
Consequently, the Appeals Court concluded that the prosecutor’s statement regarding accountability were in error. Nevertheless, the harm done by such comments were not sufficient to justify retrying the case:
However, under our substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice standard, we look further and consider whether the error “materially influence[d] the verdict”… We discern no such material influence here.
The full opinion is attached below: