Earlier this month, an appeals court in Massachusetts considered whether a defendant in an assault case should be entitled to a new trial. Originally, the defendant was charged with and convicted of assault and battery on a person over the age of fourteen. Once the defendant appealed, the higher court reconsidered the conviction and decided that the defendant was eligible for a new trial.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant first threatened and then physically harmed the victim in this case in April 2016. The day after the assault occurred, the victim recounted what happened to her friend. Two months later, she decided to report the assault to a detective. The detective investigated the incident, found the defendant, and eventually arrested him on charges of assault and battery.
The case went to trial, and a jury found the defendant guilty as charged. Promptly, the defendant appealed his conviction, asking the higher court to grant him a new trial.
The court of appeals reviewed the record in the case and found one grave error on the part of the lower court. The trial court allowed several individuals to testify against the defendant: one of the witnesses was the victim herself, and another was the detective who became privy to the assault and battery approximately two months later.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the detective’s testimony violated something called the “first complaint doctrine.” Under this doctrine, the court is only supposed to allow testimony from the first person to whom a victim reported an incident. Anyone with whom the victim discussed the incident, later on, is prohibited from testifying during the proceedings. This keeps testimony from coming in multiple times, and it helps jury members decide if the victim’s allegations are credible by only listening to the testimony once.
Here, the court of appeals decided that the jury could have been unnecessarily swayed by the detective’s testimony. The detective was not the first person that learned of the assault; thus, his statements during trial violated the first complaint doctrine. In addition, if the jury had questions about the victim’s credibility, they might have assumed she was more convincing based on the detective’s testimony. This testimony did not allow jury members to decide for themselves whether the victim’s allegations were, in fact, credible.
Because the detective’s testimony should not have been admitted, the court vacated the conviction and decided the defendant was entitled to a completely new trial.
Have You Been Charged with a Violent Crime in Massachusetts?
If you or a loved one is facing charges related to a violent crime in Massachusetts, give us a call at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy. We understand that in every criminal case, too much is on the line to not invest fully in every step of the litigation. We are committed to fighting for and protecting your rights, and we won’t stop until you get the outcome you need. For a free and confidential consultation, give us a call today at (617) 367-0450. We are available 24/7 to take your call.