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Friday, January 8, 2010

Convicted Corrupt Cop to Get New Trial

SJC orders new trial for ex-Stoughton cop convicted of corruption
The Boston Globe by John R. Ellement - January 7, 2010

The state's high court today overturned the corruption conviction of a former Stoughton police sergeant, saying the officer's constitutional rights were violated when court officers barred the public from jury selection in the Dedham courthouse. David M. Cohen was convicted by a Norfolk Superior Court jury in 2007 of four charges, including attempted extortion and filing a false police report. His attorneys argued he deserved a new trial because Cohen's relatives and friends were not in the courtroom when the jurors who convicted him were chosen. Writing for a unanimous Supreme Judicial Court, Justice Margot Botsford agreed. Botsford wrote that even though Cohen's relatives and reporters got into the courtroom after four days of jury selection, the right to a public trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment was violated because no one was allowed in for the first three days. "We conclude that the jury empanelment in this case contravened the defendant's right to a public trial protected by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and that accordingly, he is entitled to a new trial,'' Botsford wrote. Botsford added, "The defendant had a right to have the public present during these individual juror examinations, just as he had a right during the trial to have spectators present in the court room while sidebar conferences took place out of their earshot.'' Wendy H. Sibbison, Cohen's appellate attorney, said the SJC was reaffirming a bedrock legal principle, one that has guided trials since the country's creation. "The whole idea is that people watching keeps everybody else in the courtroom keenly alive to their responsibilities,'' Sibbison said."The fairness of a jury is utterly reliant on whether those prospective jurors tell the truth or not when they are asked questions. This is an enormously important decision.''

A spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating, whose office employed a special prosecutor, said the ruling is being reviewed. David Traub said no decision has been made by Keating on whether to retry Cohen. The Cohen case was at the center of a corruption investigation into the South Shore police department that began in 2002 and has led to the conviction of his former chief, Manuel J. Cachopa. Cachopa was convicted of being an accessory to attempted extortion for trying to block an internal investigation into Cohen's actions. Cohen was convicted of using his police badge to support his private work as an attorney. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but was released last October while he appealed. "He is doing really well,'' said Sibbison, who spoke with Cohen today. "He's thrilled that he now doesn't stand convicted of these crimes that he says he is entirely innocent of.'' Meanwhile, a former Stoughton police detective admitted Wednesday in federal court that he lied to FBI agents during an investigation into alleged police corruption and has promised to help authorities in the probe, which appears to be widening. Arlindo Romeiro, the former detective, pleaded guilty in US District Court in Boston to one count of making false statements.

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