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Amy Smigielski

Other Female Exonerees in Massachusetts
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In the early morning hours of January 7, 2009, police in Springfield, Massachusetts were called to the scene of a road rage incident involving gunshots.

As police arrived at the scene, they discovered a damaged Ford Mustang and saw a Ford Expedition driving away. The officers chased the Expedition and after curbing it, brought the two occupants, 25-year-old Marcial Rosado, Jr. and 22-year-old Angel Colon, back to the scene.

The driver of the Mustang, 28-year-old Randy Ray Smith, of Irving, Texas, said that the Expedition had rear-ended the Mustang. When he attempted to exchange insurance information with the other driver, Smith said, Marcial and Colon punched him in the head and began throwing things at him, including an ice scraper, a car stereo, and a bottle of water. Smith said he retrieved a gun from the car, waved it in the air, and fired a shot to scare them off.

The officers looked inside the Mustang and found its owner, 37-year-old Amy Smigielski, hiding on the floor of the passenger seat. In the back seat, officers found a holster and a bag of ammunition. Under the passenger seat, they found a .38-caliber LadySmith & Wesson revolver that belonged to Smigielski.

Police arrested all four. Rosado and Colon were charged with assault and battery, leaving the scene of an accident, and eluding police. Smith was charged with carrying a firearm without a license, discharging a firearm, and assault. Smigielski was charged with possession of a firearm without a license and illegal possession of ammunition.

In October 2009, Smith agreed to plead guilty to the gun possession charge and accept the mandatory sentence of 18 months in prison if the prosecution would allow Smigielski to plead guilty and receive probation. Smigielski had told her lawyer that she was terrified of going to prison and was willing to plead guilty if she could avoid it.

The prosecutor then approached Smigielski’s attorney and offered to allow Smigielski to plead guilty to a lesser charge that would permit probation instead of the mandatory 18-month prison term. Smigielski’s attorney countered by requesting that Smigielski be allowed to enter an Alford plea—which meant Smigielski would not admit guilt. The prosecutor rejected that counter-offer and withdrew her initial offer, saying, “Then let’s go to trial.”

On November 2, 2009, Smigielski went to trial in Hampden County Superior Court and chose to have her case decided by the judge without a jury.

Springfield police officer Daniel Hurd testified that in response to a notification of shots fired, he and his partner went to the Mustang while another squad car went after the Expedition. He said that he and his partner found the gun, which was loaded with one empty shell, and a bag of 18 bullets in the car. Hurd said Smigielski admitted the gun and ammunition were hers and that her husband, who was a police officer, had purchased them for her.

Hurd said the Mustang had a large hole in the back windshield and damage to the rear end. He said Smith told the officers that the Expedition had struck the Mustang.

At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, Smigielski’s attorney asked that she be acquitted since there was no evidence that she lacked a firearm owner’s permit and therefore no proof that she illegally possessed the gun and ammunition. The defense attorney argued that based on a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision (District of Columbia v. Heller), Smigielski had a right under the Second Amendment to carry a firearm. The attorney argued that Smigielski had just arrived in Massachusetts and should have had time to register the gun, which was legal in Texas.

The judge denied the motion to acquit Smigielski and ruled that there was no constitutional right to possess a firearm without a valid firearm identification card in Massachusetts.

Smigielski then testified that she had divorced her police officer husband, and moved from Texas to Massachusetts. Smith agreed to accompany her on the drive and before she departed, asked if she intended to take the LadySmith. Smigielski testified that she told Smith she didn’t want it, and left it on a table in her apartment. Unbeknownst to her, however, Smith took the gun and ammunition and put it in the trunk of Smigielski’s Mustang with his personal belongings. She said that her personal belongings were in the back seat.

Smigielski said they arrived in Massachusetts on January 5, and went to a bar in Chicopee on the evening of January 6. They left the bar at 2 a.m. to drive to her sister’s home. Smigielski said that she tried to persuade Smith to let her drive because he was drunk. He became angry, however, and opened the trunk, pulled out the gun and ammunition, and threatened her.

She said she relented, and Smith promptly drove off and slammed into a streetlight. The collision knocked the light loose, and it plunged through the back window of the Mustang. Smith continued driving and not long after, the Ford Expedition rammed into the back of the Mustang.

When Smith got out to assess the damage, she said, the occupants of the Expedition got out and an argument erupted. The men punched Smith and began throwing things. Smith then got the gun and fired it into the air. The men backed off and fled in the Expedition, ramming into the front of the Mustang as they drove away.

Smigielski said she thought the gun was still in Texas until Smith pulled it out and threatened her with it. She said that she never touched it.

On November 3, 2009, the judge convicted Smigielski of unlawful possession or control of a firearm in a motor vehicle and unlawful possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card. Smigielski was taken into custody immediately and later sentenced to two concurrent terms of 18 months in prison.

Smigielski appealed, arguing that her lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense. In addition to the failure to call Smith as a witness to corroborate her testimony that she was unaware of the presence of the gun, Smigielski contended that her lawyer failed to communicate the prosecution offer to plead guilty to a lesser charge in return for probation. Moreover, he failed to argue that, under Massachusetts law, a new or returning resident had a 60-day grace period to register a firearm.

In July 2012, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts vacated Smigielski’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The appeals court ruled that her trial attorney had provided a constitutionally deficient defense by failing to argue that the law allowing for the 60-day grace period “provided a complete defense to the charges.” By that time, however, Smigielski had served the entire 18 months in prison and had been released.

On October 11, 2012, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Smigielski filed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the state of Massachusetts. The lawsuit, which sought the maximum $500,000 allowed under the statute, was settled for $250,000.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/6/2017
State:Massachusetts
County:Hampden
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2009
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2012
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Race:White
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:37
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No