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Commonwealth v. Chambers

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

September 1, 2016

COMMONWEALTH
v.
NAKIA CHAMBERS.

          Heard: January 29, 2016.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Dorchester Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department on January 2, 2014.

         The case was tried before Jonathan R. Tynes, J.

          Max Bauer for the defendant.

          Kathryn Leary, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Grainger, Hanlon, & Agnes, JJ.

          AGNES, J.

         The defendant, Nakia Chambers, appeals from her conviction of the misdemeanor offense of wilful and malicious destruction of property with a value equal to or less than $250, in violation of G. L. c. 266, § 127. We agree with the defendant that it was error to deny her motion for a required finding at the close of the Commonwealth's case but, in the unusual circumstances of this case, we conclude that because the jury did not convict her of the offense as charged, instead returning a verdict on a lesser included offense that was supported by the evidence, the error was rendered harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. See Commonwealth v. Lang, 24 Mass.App.Ct. 253, 259 (1987). In view of the confusion that is evident in the record about the differentiation between the felony and the misdemeanor offenses set forth in G. L. c. 266, § 127, and the malice element required under two of the four offenses set forth in § 127, we take this opportunity to review the statute and the developments in the case law.

         Background.

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the jury were warranted in finding the following facts. At the time of the events, the defendant resided in the third-floor apartment of 111 Fuller Street in the Dorchester section of Boston. Mary Louise Brown and her daughter lived in the first-floor apartment, which they rented from the property owner, a bank. Brown and the defendant had a hostile relationship due to disagreements regarding responsibility for trash collection in the building. On the morning of December 17, 2013, Brown's vehicle was parked temporarily at the base of the driveway to 111 Fuller Street, blocking the exit to the street. The defendant's vehicle was in the driveway, so she asked for Brown to move her vehicle out of the way to allow the defendant to access the street. Brown, who was in her vehicle, said that she would move as soon as her daughter (who was inside the apartment) finished getting ready for work. The defendant, who had by then exited her vehicle, began cursing at Brown and kicking the door to the first-floor apartment. A few minutes later, the police arrived and asked Brown to move her vehicle. The defendant spat on Brown's car as she moved it. After the defendant had kicked the door, "the wood [of the doorframe] was completely shattered" and the door could not be locked. It took several days before the door could be repaired. While the Browns did not personally pay to repair the door, there was no evidence offered by the Commonwealth as to the cost of the repair.

         The defendant was charged with the felony offense of malicious destruction of property with a value more than $250.

         Motion for required finding of not guilty and charge conference.

         At the close of the Commonwealth's case, the defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty, contending that the Commonwealth failed to present evidence that the damage to the property was more than $250, and failed to meet its burden to prove that she had acted with malice toward the owner of the property. The motion was denied. The defendant did not present any evidence. During the ensuing discussion about the jury instructions, the judge acknowledged that "there's no evidence of the value of the property, so ... I think it can be considered on the lesser [included offense], . . . it'll just have to be the misdemeanor consideration. ... I don't think it's an essential element in terms of the proof of the offense."[1] He further stated to counsel that he would include in the instruction that "[the Commonwealth has] to prove that it was either over $250 or under $250."[2] The defendant objected, arguing that the Commonwealth failed to sustain its burden on the crime charged, the felony count.

         The judge instructed, in part, as follows:

"In order to prove the defendant guilty of this offense, the Commonwealth must prove four things beyond a reasonable doubt. First, that the defendant injured or destroyed the personal property of another. Second, that the defendant did so willfully. And third, that the defendant did so with malice. And fourth, that the amount of damage inflicted to the property was more than $250 or less than $250. . . .
"An act is done with malice if it is done out of cruelty, hostility, or revenge. To act with malice, one must . . . act not only deliberately, but out of hostility toward the owner of the property. This does not require that the person committing this offense knew the identity of the owner, but it does require that she was hostile toward the owner, whoever, that was.
"If you determine that the Commonwealth has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of willful and malicious destruction of property, you must go on to determine whether the Commonwealth has also proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the reasonable cost of repair of the damaged property, or the ...

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