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Commonwealth v. Rocheleau

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Bristol

November 9, 2016


          Heard: September 8, 2016.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the New Bedford Division of the District Court Department on May 23, 2013.

         The case was tried before Joseph I. Macy, J., and a motion for a new trial was heard by him.

          David M. Osborne for the defendant.

          David B. Mark, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Green, Wolohojian, & Massing, JJ.

          GREEN, J.

         Over objection, the defendant was ordered to remain shackled in ankle restraints throughout his trial on charges of breaking and entering in the daytime with intent to commit a felony, assault and battery, and wanton destruction of property over $250, and to remain seated as jurors entered and left the courtroom (apparently to prevent jurors from observing his shackles). On appeal, as he argued in a posttrial motion for new trial denied by the trial judge, the defendant contends that the shackling denied his rights to due process and the presumption of innocence. We conclude that any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and discern in the defendant's other claims of error no cause to disturb the judgments.[1]


         On May 22, 2013, at around 12:30 in the afternoon, the defendant, Matthew Rocheleau, broke into the victim's home. The victim, a sixty-two year old woman, was sleeping on a couch when she was awakened by a "thump" and heard her dog yelp. The victim went to her kitchen, where she found the defendant standing next to her stove, having entered through a closed but unlocked door. Frightened, the victim grabbed a knife and confronted the defendant, asking him, "What are you doing here?" The defendant did not respond, and left the house. The victim called 911 after the defendant went outside; as she did so, she watched the defendant try to escape through her backyard gate, which was secured by a padlock. The defendant was unable to open or climb over the gate and began to "throw himself into" the fence (which was made of a combination of hardwood and vinyl), eventually breaking his way through the fence. A police officer who responded to the scene testified that he estimated the value of the defendant's destruction of "a whole section of vinyl fence" to be in excess of $250. The victim then followed the defendant out to her driveway where she saw him "fiddling" with her car, and confronted him again.[2] In response, the defendant pushed the victim against the car. Seeing a neighbor pass by, the victim called to him for help. The defendant then pushed her again, and knocked her down into the street.

         Hearing the victim's call for help, the neighbor came to her assistance; he stood in front of the defendant, telling him, "Hey, look, guy. You ain't going nowheres till the police show up." Shortly thereafter, as the defendant attempted to walk away, another neighbor came to assist. The defendant continued to walk away until he and the two neighbors ran into some sanitation workers. The defendant finally capitulated and went back to the victim's house until the police arrived. The defendant was subsequently taken into custody by the police. At that time, the victim reported to the police that she was missing a twenty dollar bill.

         A few days later, an investigator for the Bristol district attorney took a statement from one of the two neighbors, who said that the defendant appeared "high" at the time of the incident. At trial, that neighbor testified that the defendant was acting nervous and mumbling at the time of the encounter. However, the police officer who responded to the victim's 911 telephone call and arrested the defendant testified that the defendant's speech seemed normal and he seemed balanced.

         We provide additional factual detail as needed in our discussion of the defendant's several claims.

         Discussion. Shackles.

         Prior to empanelment, the trial judge explained to defense counsel that his usual practice is to remove handcuffs from criminal defendants during trial, but to leave on the ankle restraints.[3] He explained that he would not require the defendant to stand when jurors entered the court room, and in that manner prevent jurors from seeing that the defendant was restrained. The defendant's counsel objected, and the judge "noted her objection." Following his conviction, the defendant again raised the use of shackles during trial in a motion for a new trial. In denying the motion, the judge observed that:

"The defendant is a large individual charged with crimes of a violent nature, including assault and battery. He was in custody indicating a need for security. The court house is essentially a single story building in which all court rooms are located on the ground floor. The court room in which he was to be tried was secure in its front, where the judge's bench is located, and along its two sides, one side being a solid wall and the other containing the jury box. However, the rear of the court room where the public sits has swinging, nonlocking doors [that] open directly into a small lobby and then into the ...

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