Credibility of the Victim in a Massachusetts Indecent Assault Case

In the nonbinding Massachusetts appellate case of Commonwealth v. Morris, the court considered a defendant’s conviction by jury for assault with intent to rape, assault and battery, and indecent assault and battery. He appealed on the grounds that the judge should not have allowed improper testimony about the demeanor of the victim and that the prosecutor’s closing argument improperly supported the government’s rebuttal witness.

The case arose when the victim was hitchhiking with three friends. The defendant picked them up, and the victim sat in the front seat. When the defendant came to the victim’s street, he drove to a street that was past her house, and when the victim asked that he stop the car, he refused. She opened the door and jumped out of the car as the defendant slowed down. The victim tried to run back to the main road, but the defendant knocked her down and sexually assaulted her.

The victim passed out and then heard someone yell that the cops were coming. The defendant left, but the victim memorized some of the numbers on the defendant’s license plate. When the police came, she gave them the details of the attack and a description of the defendant. The next morning, an officer took her and a friend to identify the defendant, which she did.

Before the victim was cross-examined, the judge heard testimony from the officer. The defendant didn’t object to the officer’s statements about what the victim initially said to the police. The defendant testified that he’d played pool the night of the victim’s attack, and his friend borrowed the car and didn’t come back until after 1:00 a.m. He also testified that he’d had a fight with the friend about leaving so long with his car. The friend testified as a rebuttal witness for the Commonwealth, stating he was in Cleveland at the time of the attack.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the officer’s testimony about what the victim told her was inadmissible hearsay. The appellate court noted this issue wasn’t raised with the trial judge. It also explained that the testifying officer had reviewed the police report prepared by another officer before testifying on the incident. However, at no point in her testimony did she say that she had forgotten the details of what the victim had told her.

The defendant also argued that the victim wasn’t credible. When a defendant challenges the credibility of a sexual assault victim, the prosecution can present a “first complaint witness” to bolster the victim’s credibility. A first complaint witness is the first person the victim told of the assault. The officer, in this case, was the first complaint witness. The court found that there was no error in allowing the officer’s testimony for purposes of rebutting the defendant’s challenge to the victim’s credibility.

The defendant also argued on appeal that evidence of the demeanor of the victim shouldn’t have been admitted. The court explained that evidence of a victim’s state of mind after a crime is admissible when relevant to a contested issue.

The defendant also argued that the prosecutor bolstered the credibility of the defendant’s friend as rebuttal witness by posing a question that suggested the friend had come back just to tell the truth. The court explained that the closing arguments had to be looked at in the context of the total argument as well as the judge’s instructions and the evidence. The prosecutor was allowed to respond to attacks on the credibility of one of the government’s witnesses. The ruling was affirmed.

If you are charged in Massachusetts with a sex crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015
Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014

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