476 Mass. 539 (2017), SJC-12149, Commonwealth v. Oberle

Docket Nº:SJC-12149
Citation:476 Mass. 539, 69 N.E.3d 993
Opinion Judge:Botsford, J.
Party Name:Commonwealth v. William Oberle
Attorney:Merritt Schnipper for the defendant. Michael McGee, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.
Judge Panel:Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.
Case Date:February 28, 2017
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Page 539

476 Mass. 539 (2017)

69 N.E.3d 993



William Oberle


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk

February 28, 2017

Argued December 8, 2016.

Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on September 17, 2014.

The cases were tried before Raymond J. Brassard, J.

The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

Judgments affirmed.

Merritt Schnipper for the defendant.

Michael McGee, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.


Botsford, J.

[69 N.E.3d 996] The defendant, William Oberle, appeals from three assault and battery convictions, G. L. c. 265, § 13A ( a ), and a kidnapping conviction, G. L. c. 265, § 26, arising out of an incident of domestic violence. The defendant argues that the trial judge erred in denying his peremptory challenge of a female juror and in admitting prior bad act evidence. We reject both arguments

Page 540

and affirm the judgments of conviction of assault and battery. The defendant also argues that there was insufficient evidence to support his kidnapping conviction. We are unpersuaded, and affirm that conviction.

1. Background.

a. Facts.

Because the defendant challenges, in part, the sufficiency of the trial evidence, we summarize it in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. Commonwealth v.

Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 676-677, 393 N.E.2d 370 (1979). The defendant and the victim began a romantic relationship in the summer of 2013. The defendant made the victim feel uncomfortable and insecure, and prevented her from looking at or speaking with others in public. In February, 2014, the victim went to a hospital emergency room with bruising to her ears, face, neck, and arm after the defendant had beaten and strangled her. As he wrapped his hands around her neck during that incident, the defendant told the victim he was going to kill her.

The couple soon reconciled and moved together to the home of the defendant's daughter in Dedham. They occupied a bedroom in the basement of the house, which had a private back door and a shared exit through the first-floor kitchen.1 Although their relationship briefly stabilized following the move, the defendant's physical abuse of the victim resumed, and the defendant struck the victim's face on multiple occasions. The victim struggled with alcohol and was intoxicated daily during this period.

On July 4, 2014, the defendant and victim argued because the defendant refused to return the victim's bank card, an act she took as a sign that he was again using drugs. Following the argument, the defendant left; the victim stayed home, drank several beers, and went to bed. When the defendant returned to the house after midnight, the argument escalated. The defendant punched the victim's face, chest, and legs. He held her down and choked her, saying he would kill her. The victim was unable to call for help because the defendant had taken her cellular telephone the day before.

The victim lost consciousness for an unspecified period of time. When she woke up, the defendant was still on top of her, shouting, with his hands around her neck. The victim was unsure how she got away or how much time had passed, but recalled that there was daylight when she ran out the back door of the basement

Page 541

Barefoot, bleeding, and wearing only her pajamas, she ran across the street and hid in the garage of a rental car business. The defendant initially remained in the basement bedroom, but the victim saw him walk down the driveway as she waited for the business to open so that she could telephone the police.

[69 N.E.3d 997] Matthew Kronk arrived to open the rental car business at approximately 7:30 a.m. The victim approached Kronk to ask for help, and he telephoned 911. Paramedics and Dedham police officers responded to the scene and brought the victim to the hospital, where her injuries were photographed. They included bruising to the arm and left eye, bleeding in the nose and ear, and neck abrasions. The victim's treating physician opined that these injuries were consistent with multiple blows to the face and body, and with strangulation.

b. Procedural history.

The defendant was indicted on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping, witness intimidation, and four counts of assault and battery. At the close of the Commonwealth's case, the defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty on the charges. The judge allowed the motion in relation to the charge of witness intimidation but denied it for the remaining charged crimes. The defendant renewed his motion at the close of the defense case, and it was again denied.

The jury acquitted the defendant of attempted murder and one of the assault and battery charges, and convicted him of kidnapping and three counts of assault and battery.2 The defendant filed a timely notice of appeal, and we allowed his application for direct appellate review.

2. Discussion.

a. Peremptory challenges.

We begin by summarizing what happened at trial during jury selection. After directing a series of questions to the jury venire as a group and noting their answers, the trial judge conducted an individual voir dire of every prospective juror called. Both counsel and the defendant were present at sidebar for the judge's individual juror questioning, and the judge required counsel to raise any peremptory challenge to a prospective juror immediately after the judge completed his questioning.

The judge excused for cause the first prospective juror called (juror no. 1), a woman, because her close friend's recent experience

Page 542

with domestic violence was likely to influence her thinking. Juror no. 2, a man, was seated. The defendant exercised a peremptory challenge to juror no. 3, a woman who was a college sophomore. Juror no. 4, a woman with at least twenty-three years' professional experience, was seated without challenge. The judge excused jurors nos. 5 and 6, both of whom were women whose family or friends had been victims of domestic violence. The defendant exercised his second peremptory challenge to juror no. 7; she was a college student studying criminal justice who had " lost faith" in " the system."

The defendant exercised his third peremptory challenge to juror no. 8, the seventh woman out of the first eight prospective jurors called. The judge allowed the challenge. Before doing so, the following exchange between the judge and the defendant's counsel took place: The judge: " Counsel, I think there's a pattern of excusing female jurors. This is the second one or the third; one of them I think I understand. The juror we had a few moments ago spoke about knowing people in prison and the like. But I think there's a clear pattern here of excusing younger female jurors. [Juror no. 8], like the others you excused, they were all in their twenties, perhaps early thirties at the oldest. And I'm going to make that finding and require you give me a reason."

[69 N.E.3d 998] Defense counsel: " Okay. I'd suggest that I have had no choice but to excuse female jurors because that's all we've had up here except we had one man up here so far. We have excused one because we had clear questions about her ability to be unbiased; she said so right in the report. The other two my client did not feel comfortable with. We have a lot of female -- "

The judge: " 'Not feeling comfortable' is not going to do it."

Defense counsel: " Peremptories. It's a peremptory challenge. If it was an even number of men and women that we have been interviewing, but we've only interviewed, what -- so we're interviewing -- we've allowed one on. So I'd suggest that we've been completely unbiased in the way that we've chosen. We had no alternative other than to excuse women because that's all we've been faced with is women, so -- "

Page 543 The judge: " There's no requirement to excuse good jurors, whatever their gender. ... I think there's a marked pattern, [defense counsel]. I'm going to give you -- really lean over backwards and give you the benefit of the doubt with this juror. But that will be the last one, because what you have given me by way of explanation is wholly inadequate. I don't doubt that you're being truthful; I have no reason to doubt that. But the substance of what you've explained is that there is no substance to it, none whatsoever."

The next seven prospective jurors called were five men and two women. Of this group, two men and one woman -- a person with fourteen years' experience as an elementary school teacher -- were seated without challenge. The judge excused one man due to a scheduling conflict,...

To continue reading