Supreme Judicial Court (November 30, 2006)

Statements made by a victim to a 911 dispatcher are admissible if they were made under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose was to enable police to meet an ongoing emergency. Conversely, statements made by a victim to responding officers when the emergency passed are not admissible.

A 911 dispatcher received an emergency call from the victim stating, "My husband's beating me up right now . . . Ow!" The second officer at the scene testified that he arrived less than five minutes later and observed chairs overturned, a man with his shirt off, and the victim with scratches on her face and chin, and appeared "tearful." He questioned the victim, who stated that her husband punched, choked and kicked her. The first officer at the scene did not testify. The victim did not testify at trial and the victim's statements were admitted into evidence as excited utterances (prior to the Crawford decision). The defendant was found guilty of assault and battery and appealed. The SJC took the case on its own initiative and briefs were submitted pursuant to Davis v. Washington and Hammon v. Indiana.

In the SJC's first application of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Davis v. Washington and Hammon v. Indiana concerning the definition of testimonial statements, the Court looked to determine whether the circumstances objectively indicated that the primary purpose of the interrogation was to meet an ongoing emergency as set forth in Davis. The indicia set forth in Davis, and the factors the Court looked at were:

  1. whether the 911 caller was speaking about events as they were actually happening rather than describing past events
  2. whether any reasonable listener would recognize that the caller was facing an "ongoing emergency"
  3. whether what was asked and answered was, viewed objectively, necessary to be able to resolve the present emergency, rather than simply to learn what had happened in the past, including whether it was necessary for the dispatcher to know the identity of the alleged perpetrator
  4. the level of formality of the interview

The SJC concluded that the statements during the 911 call were admissible because the call concerned an assault that was actually happening, and any reasonable listener would conclude there was an ongoing emergency. However, the Court ruled that the statements made to the officer at the scene were improperly admitted since the officer testified that when he arrived he "determined that the scene was safe." The Court concluded that by the time the testifying officer had arrived, the assault had ended, the urgency had subsided and the scene was secured.