Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Middlesex Appeals Court Sets Aside Verdict of Sex Offender on Accosting or Annoying Charges, Affirms Attempted Kidnapping Charges


In October, 2007, a Level 3 sex offender was on the loose in the MIT area of Massachusetts. reported at the time that Joseph D. Sullivan, a 59-year-old homeless man with a 1989 conviction for indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older, had accosted a 23-year-old MIT student.

The young woman was walking to her dorm room from the MIT campus around 9:45p.m., when she noticed that the driver of a green station wagon had pulled over onto the street in front of her. The driver, who was later identified as Mr. Sullivan, rolled down the passenger side window of the station wagon, and called out to her that she looked tired and that she should come over to the vehicle. The MIT student stated that she had ignored Mr. Sullivan’s attempt to get her attention, and, at that point, he got out of the station wagon and moved to the front of it. When the student began to walk quickly away from him, Mr. Sullivan ran to the back of the car and wedged the young woman between him and a building. Mr. Sullivan then repeatedly told the student to get into his car, and she walked by him.

Undeterred, Mr. Sullivan hopped back into the station wagon and made a U-turn, continuing to follow her. He stopped the car on another street and jumped out in front of the student, again blocking her so that she was wedged between his body and a building. He again asked her to get in his car and talk with him. The student yelled out Mr. Sullivan’s license plate number, which caused him to finally back away, and she moved away from him again. Mr. Sullivan then followed the student on foot, but finally left her alone as she repeatedly yelled out his license plate number. He then got back into the station wagon and drove away.  

Mr. Sullivan was ultimately arrested and convicted of attempted kidnapping and of accosting or annoying a person of the opposite sex . He moved to vacate the attempted kidnapping charges in 2010, which was denied, and then appealed his case to the Middlesex Appeals Court. The Appeal was decided on July 10 of this year.

On appeal, Mr. Sullivan argued that the Commonwealth had presented insufficient evidence on the attempted kidnapping charge, and that he had insufficient assistance of counsel, and that the lower court had wrongly denied his motion to vacate. More interesting, however, was Mr. Sullivan’s contention that the Commonwealth had also provided insufficient evidence for a conviction on the charge of accosting or annoying a person of the opposite sex. The Appeals Court affirmed the decisions of the lower courts on all of Mr. Sullivan’s arguments except for this last remaining issue.

The Appeals Court first noted that in order for a person to have accosted or annoyed a person of the opposite sex, the conduct must have been legally offensive and disorderly. The Appeals Court declined to define disorderly conduct, because it determined that Mr. Sullivan’s conduct did not reach the threshold required for offensive conduct. Under the law, it opined, offensive conduct is that which causes “displeasure, anger or resentment” and that is “repugnant to the prevailing sense of what is decent or moral.” That is, the conduct must be sexually explicit in some way. The Court determined that while Mr. Sullivan’s conduct was offensive in a generic sense, the evidence was insufficient to prove that it contained sexual content. Therefore, the Appeals Court reversed the indictment on the charge of accosting or annoying a person of the opposite sex, and set aside the verdict.

If you have been charged with violating criminal laws in Massachusetts, you should immediately contact an experienced attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Edward R. Molari  today at for a confidential consultation.


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