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Court Documents Show Discord Between Judge, Berkshire DA’s Office

The door of the Berkshire District Attorney's office.
Josh Landes
The door of the Berkshire District Attorney's office in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

A back and forth over a defendant’s request for a new trial captured in court documents reveal sharp criticisms of the Berkshire County District Attorney by a superior court judge.

Judge John Agostini denied two motions in October and earlier this month for a new trial from DA Andrea Harrington’s office for Adalberto Santana Jr., who was arrested in 2017 and convicted of distributing cocaine in 2019. The DA’s office said it would abandon its prosecution of Santana in a new trial given that he has already served his two-year sentence in the Berkshire House of Correction and in acknowledgement of issues raised by the defendant.

In both denials, Agostini described the office’s actions as disingenuous.

In the first, dated October 5th, he says the office was too vague in its request for a new trial, citing no specific errors with the first trial but “based on the cumulative effect of the errors alleged in conjunction with the time served by the defendant.” Agostini suggests the DA avoided drawing attention to criticism of her office in the first request.

The judge determined that there is no evidence of the Drug Task Force engaging in witness entrapment as suggested by the defendant, and rejected claims from the defendant that the court erroneously excused two potential jurors “leaning against the prosecution.”

The first charge of disingenuousness from Agostini comes around the prosecution’s concerns about the time served by Santana. He says the Commonwealth failed to note that the case was tried “due to the Commonwealth’s insistence of state prison prior to trial,” and that the assistant DA recommended two and a half to three years in state prison. Santana was ultimately sentenced to two years at the Berkshire House of Correction. Agostini ends his note on the matter by writing “I sense that something else is going on.”

In her response to the first denial, dated November 3rd, Harrington says her office is backing Santana’s request for a new trial as part of its evolving understanding of the opioid epidemic and a War on Drugs it describes as punitive. She argues that Santana was an addict who occasionally sold drugs as opposed to a full-on dealer, and that the two jurors had been dismissed in pre-trial questioning because of “a perhaps intuitive sense that there appear to be racial disparities in the administration of criminal justice.” She also makes it clear that there was nothing to suggest any racial discrimination in the case in question. The DA concludes her argument by saying that undercover drug enforcement operations concentrate on neighborhoods “grievously afflicted with opioid addiction and trafficking,” and that law enforcement must consider how to eradicate that threat in a manner that doesn’t further social inequity.

In his second denial for a new trial, dated November 4th, Agostini draws attention to a changing narrative from the DA, noting that in her assent to the defendant’s motion for a new trial she acknowledges the claims of multiple errors in the process – the issues raised around the drug task force’s behavior and the dismissed jurors – but then the DA says she does not concede that the claims raised by the defendant were in fact error in the second request to consider a new trial.

The judge again calls the DA disingenuous in wanting to blame the dismissal of charges on the court and law enforcement officers. He accuses Harrington of not “standing up and telling the court the real reasons for the dismissal,” and implies that she threw the court and police under the bus. He suggests to the DA that “if the Commonwealth wants a charge dismissed, it is advisable that it simply tell the truth and the court will do everything to accomplish that goal.”

Through a spokesperson, the District Attorney’s office declined to comment on this story while the case remains pending in Appeals Court.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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