Massachusetts Court Weighs in on Admissibility of Expert Witness Testimony in Recent Assault and Battery Case

The Supreme Judicial Court recently reversed a defendant’s Massachusetts assault and battery conviction, finding that the trial court made a prejudicial error in excluding the defendant’s expert witness. After an altercation with two men, the court indicted the appellant on two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant argued that he acted in self-defense after one of the men attacked him based on racial animus. To substantiate his claim, the defendant proposed two expert witnesses that could testify that the man had a tattoo of a symbol affiliated with a white supremacist group. The judge excluded the witnesses, and the defendant was convicted.

On appeal, the court considered whether the trial judge incorrectly excluded the defendant’s experts. At trial, the defendant attempted to introduce two experts: one with a doctorate in cultural anthropology who studies the nationalist movement, and another with a doctorate in educational leadership and is an expert on gangs. The defendant argued that the judge’s finding that the experts were not reliable was an abuse of discretion.

Under Massachusetts law, expert testimony works to aid jurors in interpreting evidence that is outside common knowledge. The Daubert-Lanigan standard generally governs the admission of expert testimony. The testimony must stem from a “reliable foundation” and be “relevant to the task at hand” to meet this standard. Evidence is relevant if it tends to make a fact more or less probable.

Judges maintain the discretion to determine whether testimony meets this standard. However, the weight of an expert’s final opinion and credibility is a jury question, not a judicial determination. In this case, the defendant wished to present the experts to establish that the man had an affinity for white supremacist ideology, not that he actually belonged to a gang. In essence, the expert’s testimony went to whether the attack was racially motivated. Further, courts routinely use tattoos to show motive. Here, the defendant’s testimony about racially charged statements the men made towards him combined with the expert’s testimony regarding the relevance of the tattoos would have provided the jury with a causal connection. Therefore, the trial judge’s exclusion was inappropriate. Ultimately, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for a new trial.

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If you or someone you know has been arrested, charged, or convicted of a Massachusetts crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy. Boston criminal defense lawyer Patrick Murphy has over 25 years of experience representing individuals charged with criminal offenses. Attorney Murphy provides clients with respect, compassion, and aggressive representation during all stages of their case. He handles cases stemming from Massachusetts assault and battery crimes, OUI charges, theft offenses, drug crimes, crimes against property, sex offenses, and more. In combination with his extensive legal knowledge, Attorney Murphy uses his negotiation, advocacy, and courtroom skills to acquire the best possible outcome for his clients. If you have been accused of a Massachusetts criminal offense Attorney Patrick J. Murphy can help you move forward. Contact his office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a Boston criminal defense attorney.


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