CROSS-EXAMINATION AND CITIZENSHIP
COMMONWEALTH V. FREDYS ALEXANDER CHICAS
A jury convicted defendant Fredys Alexander Chicas of murder in the first degree by extreme atrocity or cruelty.
The incident in question took place on Christmas Eve in 2005. The victim and the defendant attended a party at Jose Castillo’s house in Chelsea, Massachusetts. At some point in the evening, the victim, who was intoxicated, made inappropriate comments to and inappropriately touched the defendant’s girlfriend Catea Travassas. The defendant intervened and asked the victim to not disrespect Travassas.
A physical altercation occurred when tempers boiled over and the defendant punched the victim in the face. After the fight the victim fled. He returned a short while later looking for his cell phone. He was not allowed back in the house and was attacked by a few men still at the party, including the defendant. He fled again and returned again and began smashing Castillo’s vehicle with rocks, a bottle, and a stick. The defendant, armed with a baseball bat, and with the help of Jesus Villanueva, confronted the victim. The victim fled again. This time the defendant and Villanueva pursued him.
They chased the victim down to a parking lot a short distance from the party. There they severely beat the victim and left him on the ground bloodied. They returned some time after and continued beating the victim, to his eventual death.
Villanueva has been missing since the night of the incident in question but has been indicted for murder. The defendant turned himself into police two weeks after the incident. Villanueva was charged with murder in the first degree by extreme atrocity or cruelty.
After being convicted, the defendant motioned for a new trial for two reasons:
On appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court:
On the question of the cross examination of the witnesses, the Court ruled that the judge did not abuse her discretion in limiting the defendant’s cross-examination of the Commonwealth’s witnesses.
At trial, the defendant sought to ask all of the Commonwealth’s witnesses whether they were citizens of the United States in an attempt to put forth the inference that they were undocumented and, because they were undocumented, that they may be inclined to cooperate with the Commonwealth. The Court concluded that this argument depended on a showing that the witness was testifying in order to curry favor with the Commonwealth. The judge permitted the defendant to ask whether each witness discussed his or her citizenship status with the police or prosecution and that if the witness had not, the defendant was not allowed to inquire further. The rationale behind this was that once the witness testified that he or she had not conversed with the Commonwealth or curried any favor, there was no longer a “plausible connection” between the witness’s citizenship status and potential bias.
The Court determined that the judge did not foreclose the potential bias line of questioning with other witnesses. Instead, she permitted the defendant to lay the foundation for potential bias by inquiring if the witnesses had spoken with police or prosecutors about citizenship status. Additionally, the Court ruled that the judge was permitted to limit the defendant’s cross-examination of witnesses to prevent embarrassment and harassment. It added that there is no reason to believe that the fact that the witnesses may not have been legal residents of the United States was evidence of their ability to be truthful.
On the question of the use of multiple interpreters, the Court ruled no abuse of discretion upon review of the Trial Court transcript. Its rationale was trifold. First, the Court determined that the judge indeed conferred with defense counsel before implementing the translation procedure. The defense counsel agreed with the procedure and did not object to its practice at any point during trial. Second, the Court determined that the use of multiple interpreters indeed complied with the governing interpreter procedures in the Trial Court, per Standards and Procedures of the Office of Court Interpreter Services. Lastly, the Court ruled that the judge correctly instructed the jury that it was the translation of the witnesses’ testimony that was to be considered as evidence.
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Source: Commonwealth vs. Fredys Alexander Chicas, SJC—10986