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Guide to Evidence Article XI: Miscellaneous
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Table of Contents
Section 1101. Applicability of evidentiary sections
(a) Proceedings to which applicable
Except as provided in Subsection (c), these sections apply to all actions and proceedings in the courts of the Commonwealth.
The provisions of Article V apply at all stages of all actions, cases, and proceedings.
(c) Where inapplicable
These sections (other than those concerning privileges) do not apply in the following situations:
(1) Preliminary Determinations of Fact. The determination of questions of fact preliminary to the admissibility of evidence when the determination is to be made by the judge under Section104(a).
(2) Grand Jury Proceedings. Proceedings before grand juries.
(3) Certain Other Proceedings. Most administrative proceedings; bail proceedings; bar discipline proceedings; civil motor vehicle infraction hearings; issuance of process (warrant, complaint, capias, summons); precomplaint, show cause hearings; civil commitment proceedings for alcohol and substance abuse; pretrial dangerousness hearings; prison disciplinary hearings; probation violation hearings; restitution hearings; sentencing; sexual offender registry board hearings; small claims sessions; and summary contempt proceedings.
(d) Motions to suppress
The law of evidence does not apply with full force at motion to suppress hearings. As to the determination of probable cause or the justification of government action, out-of-court statements are admissible.
Subsection (a). This subsection summarizes the current practice in Massachusetts courts. “The rules of evidence stand guard to ensure that only relevant, reliable, noninflammatory considerations may shape fact finding. Without these rules, there would be nothing to prevent trials from being resolved on whim, personal affections, or prejudice.” Adoption of Sherry, 435 Mass. 331, 338 (2001). In addition to trials, therefore, the law of evidence applies at hearings on motions. See Thorell v. ADAP, Inc., 58 Mass. App. Ct. 334, 340–341 (2003).
Subsection (b). Privileges are covered in Article V, Privileges and Disqualifications.
Subsection (c)(1). See Note to Section 104(a), Preliminary Questions: In General.
Subsection (c)(2). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Gibson, 368 Mass. 518, 522–525 (1975), and Mass. R. Crim. P. 4(c). See Reporters’ Notes to Mass. R. Crim. P. 4(c) (“evidence which is not legally competent at trial is sufficient upon which to base an indictment”).
Subsection (c)(3). Evidence bearing directly on probable cause, such as what a witness, a police officer, or a probation officer tells a court in connection with a request for an arrest warrant, a probation violation warrant, a warrant of apprehension, a search warrant, a capias, or a summons, or in support of a criminal complaint or as justification for a search and seizure, is not objectionable on grounds of hearsay in a judicial proceeding to determine probable cause. Commonwealth v. Fletcher, 435 Mass. 558, 567 (2002); Commonwealth v. Weiss, 370 Mass. 416, 418 (1976); Commonwealth v. Rosenthal, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 707, 709 n.3 (2001). While the traditional rules of evidence may not apply in these situations, the evidence must still be reliable and trustworthy. See Abbott A. v. Commonwealth, 458 Mass. 24, 34–35 (2010); Brantley v. Hampden Div. of the Probate & Family Ct. Dep’t, 457 Mass. 172, 184–185 (2010); Commonwealth v. Wilcox, 446 Mass. 61, 71 (2006).
This subsection identifies the various miscellaneous proceedings to which the rules of evidence are not applicable, including the following:
209A Hearings. See Silvia v. Duarte, 421 Mass. 1007, 1008 (1995); Frizado v. Frizado, 420 Mass. 592, 597–598 (1995).
Administrative Proceedings. See G. L. c. 30A, § 11(2); 452 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.11(5); Costa v. Fall River Hous. Auth., 453 Mass. 614, 627 (2009); Rate Setting Comm’n v. Baystate Med. Ctr., 422 Mass. 744, 752–755 (1996); Goodridge v. Director of Div. of Employment Sec., 375 Mass. 434, 436 n.1 (1978)); Winthrop Retirement Bd. v. LaMonica, 98 Mass. App. Ct. 360, 368–369 (2020) (retirement board could consider presentence report, which included factual findings on dismissed charges but was adopted by sentencing judge, as evidence linking criminal activity to public employment). See also Care & Protection of Rebecca, 419 Mass. 67, 83 (1994) (a witness at such a proceeding is not permitted to express an opinion about the credibility of another witness).
Bail Proceedings. See Paquette v. Commonwealth, 440 Mass. 121, 133 (2003) (bail revocation proceedings); Querubin v. Commonwealth, 440 Mass. 108, 118 (2003) (G. L. c. 276, § 57, proceedings); Snow v. Commonwealth, 404 Mass. 1007, 1007 (1989).
Bar Discipline Proceedings. See Matter of Abbott, 437 Mass. 384, 393 (2002).
Civil Commitment Hearings for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders. See G. L. c. 123, § 35; Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. 112, 128–129 (2015). See also Section 1118, Civil Commitment Hearings for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders.
Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction Hearings. See G. L. c. 90, § 20 (traffic citation). Under the Uniform Rules on Civil Motor Vehicle Infractions, the formal rules of evidence do not apply. See Commonwealth v. Curtin, 386 Mass. 587, 588 n.3 (1982). The same holds true for cases involving parking tickets under G. L. c. 90, § 20C. See Lemaine v. City of Boston, 27 Mass. App. Ct. 1173, 1175 (1989).
Issuance of Process (Warrant, Capias, Summons). See Commonwealth v. Weiss, 370 Mass. 416, 418 (1976); Commonwealth v. Young, 349 Mass. 175, 179 (1965); Commonwealth v. Lehan, 347 Mass. 197, 206 (1964); Commonwealth v. Rosenthal, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 707, 709 n.3 (2001).
Juvenile First Misdemeanor Offense Dismissal (Wallace W.) Hearings. See Commonwealth v. Nick N., 486 Mass. 696, 706 (2021) (reliable hearsay, as defined in Commonwealth v. Durling, 407 Mass. 108, 117–118 , is admissible in juvenile’s first misdemeanor offense dismissal hearings). See also Wallace W. v. Commonwealth, 482 Mass. 789, 800–801 (2019).
Precomplaint Hearings. See G. L. c. 218, § 35A . The formal rules of evidence do not apply at a hearing conducted pursuant to G. L. c. 218, § 35A . Commonwealth v. Clerk-Magistrate of the W. Roxbury Div. of the Dist. Ct. Dep’t, 439 Mass. 352, 357–358 (2003); Commonwealth v. DiBennadetto, 436 Mass. 310, 314–315 (2002) (no right to cross-examine witness).
Pretrial Dangerousness Hearings. See G. L. c. 276, § 58A(4); Abbott A. v. Commonwealth, 458 Mass. 24, 30–33 (2010); Mendonza v. Commonwealth, 423 Mass. 771, 785–786 (1996). By statute, a judge must consider hearsay contained either in a police report or a statement of a victim or witness at a dangerousness hearing. G. L. c. 276, § 58A(4). Hearsay must be reliable to be the basis for a finding of dangerousness; hearsay that is the sole basis for the finding must have substantial indicia of reliability. Vega v. Commonwealth, 490 Mass. 226, 238–239 (2022). Before being able to summons the victim or the victim’s family to the hearing, a defendant must make a motion to the court prior to the issuance of the summons. The defendant must demonstrate a good-faith basis that there is a reasonable belief that the testimony of the witness will support a conclusion for conditions of release. G. L. c. 276, § 58A(4).
Pretrial Probation Revocation Hearings Pursuant to G. L. c. 276, § 87. See Commonwealth v. Preston P., 483 Mass. 759, 774 (2020) (due process requires only notice of alleged violation, opportunity to be heard, and judicial finding; evidentiary requirements applicable to probation violation hearings in-applicable).
Prison Disciplinary Hearings. See Murphy v. Superintendent, Mass. Correctional Inst., 396 Mass. 830, 834 (1986).
Probation Violation Hearings. Probationers have a due process right to confront adverse witnesses and to present a defense. These rights are distinct and must be analyzed separately. See Commonwealth v. Costa, 490 Mass. 118, 124 (2022); Commonwealth v. Hartfield, 474 Mass. 474, 479 (2016).
Right to Confront Adverse Witnesses. Probationers have the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses unless the judge specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation. Costa, 490 Mass. at 123; Commonwealth v. Durling, 407 Mass. 108, 118 (1990). The good-cause requirement for dispensing with the right to confront witnesses is satisfied by the introduction of reliable hearsay. Commonwealth v. Negron, 441 Mass. 685, 691 (2004). If hearsay is the only evidence of the violation, it must be substantially reliable. Costa, 490 Mass. at 124; Hartfield, 474 Mass. at 483–484; Commonwealth v. Bukin, 467 Mass. 516, 522 (2014); Commonwealth v. Patton, 458 Mass. 119, 132 (2010); Durling, 407 Mass. at 117–118. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Hamilton, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 782, 788–789 (2019) (hearsay statements containing unexplained conclusions by unnamed persons not substantially reliable to establish probation violation); Commonwealth v. Grant G., 96 Mass. App. Ct. 721, 726 (2019) (case worker’s testimony was not substantially reliable to support probation revocation where it was based on hearsay from other workers, lacked detail about specific incidents, and was not corroborated by any other source).
Hearsay that is admissible under standard evidentiary rules is presumptively reliable. Durling, 407 Mass. at 118. If the hearsay would not be admissible under the standard rules, the judge must make an independent examination of the reliability of the evidence. Id. After making this assessment, the judge should explain in writing or on the record why the hearsay is reliable. Hartfield, 474 Mass. at 485; Durling, 407 Mass. at 118. To determine whether hearsay has substantial indicia of reliability, the judge should consider such factors as (1) whether the evidence is based on personal knowledge or direct observation; (2) whether the evidence, if based on direct observation, was recorded close in time to the events in question; (3) the level of factual detail; (4) whether the statements are internally consistent; (5) whether the evidence is corroborated by information from other sources; (6) whether the declarant was disinterested when the statements were made; and (7) whether the statements were made under circumstances that support their veracity. See Costa, 490 Mass. at 124; Hartfield, 474 Mass. at 484. There is no requirement the hearsay satisfy all of the indicia of reliability to be admissible. Costa, 490 Mass. at 126.
Formal procedures for authenticating evidence need not be followed in probation violation hearings as long as the evidence is sufficiently reliable. Commonwealth v. Sargent, 98 Mass. App. Ct. 27, 30–32 (2020) (authentication of handwritten letter by person familiar with probationer’s handwriting or by comparing to known sample of his handwriting not required where letter bore sufficient indicia of reliability). See also Commonwealth v. Thissell, 457 Mass. 191, 196 (2010) (judge appropriately relied on factually detailed, contemporaneous GPS records regularly used by probation department to find probation violation).
Right to Present a Defense. Probationers have the presumptive right to call witnesses in their own defense, including adverse witnesses. The Commonwealth may rebut the presumption by showing that the proposed testimony would be unnecessary to a fair adjudication of the alleged violation or would be unduly burdensome to the witness or the court’s resources. See Costa, 490 Mass. at 127; Hartfield, 474 Mass. at 481. In determining whether the presumption has been rebutted, the judge must consider the totality of the circumstances, including at least three factors: (1) whether the proposed testimony might be significant in determining whether the probationer violated the conditions of probation; (2) whether, based on a proffer of the witness’s expected testimony, the witness would provide noncumulative evidence; and (3) whether, based on an individualized and evidence-based assessment of the witness, there is an unacceptable risk that the witness’s physical, psychological, or emotional health would be significantly jeopardized if required to testify (e.g., trauma an alleged sexual assault victim might suffer from being required to testify). See Costa, 490 Mass. at 127–128; Hartfield, 474 Mass. at 481–482. When a judge allows a probationer to call such a witness, the judge may restrict the scope of testimony where a probationer’s examination seeks irrelevant or cumulative evidence or is unduly harassing to the witness. See Hartfield, 474 Mass. at 482.
Restitution Hearings. See Section 1114, Restitution.
Sentencing. See Commonwealth v. Goodwin, 414 Mass. 88, 92 (1993) (a judge may consider many factors, including hearsay). See also G. L. c. 276, § 85; Mass. R. Crim. P. 28(d); Commonwealth v. Stuckich, 450 Mass. 449, 461–462 (2008) (evidence of uncharged conduct is admissible and relevant to the character of the offender, but may not be used to increase the punishment).
Sexual Offender Registry Board Hearings. See G. L. c. 6, § 178L(2); 803 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.19(1).
Small Claims. See generally G. L. c. 218, §§ 21, 22 .
Summary Contempt Proceedings. See Mass. R. Crim. P. 43.
Subsection (d). This subsection is derived from United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 172–175 (1974), and Commonwealth v. Evelyn, 485 Mass. 691, 706 & n.8 (2020). “At a suppression hearing, the court may rely on hearsay, even though that evidence would not be admissible at trial,” unless a specific hearsay exception is established. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 679 (1980). See Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 456 Mass. 578, 590 n.12 (2010) (“While [the witness’s] statement to the detective would be inadmissible hearsay at trial, it was admissible at a motion to suppress hearing, where out-of-court statements may be introduced if they bear on whether the police had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to justify the subsequent stop or arrest of the defendant.”); Commonwealth v. Love, 452 Mass. 498, 507–508 (2008) (“some hearsay is admissible at a hearing on a motion to suppress, whereas at trial it is inadmissible unless a specific exception can be established [citations omitted]”); Commonwealth v. Young, 349 Mass. 175, 179 (1965) (it is proper for judge to consider hearsay evidence when issue before court is probable cause). “At a hearing on a motion to suppress, judges should ‘err on the side of considering more, not less, information’ and then determine the credibility, reliability, and weight to be applied to that evidence.” Evelyn, 485 Mass. at 706, quoting United States v. Stepp, 680 F.3d 651, 669 (6th Cir. 2012). Cross-Reference: Section 104(a), Preliminary Questions: In General.
Cross-Reference: Section 1112, Eyewitness Identification.
Section 1102. Spoliation or destruction of evidence
A judge has the discretion to impose sanctions for the spoliation or destruction of evidence, whether negligent or intentional, in the underlying action in which the evidence would have been offered.
This section is derived from Keene v. Brigham & Women’s Hosp., Inc., 439 Mass. 223, 235–236 (2003), and Commonwealth v. Henderson, 411 Mass. 309, 311–312 (1991). See also Mass. R. Civ. P. 37(b); Kippenhan v. Chaulk Servs., Inc., 428 Mass. 124, 126–129 (1998); Nally v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 405 Mass. 191, 197 (1989). The mere fact that evidence is missing and was in the possession of a party, without more, is insufficient to establish spoliation. Sullivan v. Connolly, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 56, 58–59 (2017). There is no tort cause of action for spoliation or destruction of evidence. See Fletcher v. Dorchester Mut. Ins. Co., 437 Mass. 544 (2002).
"Sanctions may be appropriate for the spoliation of evidence that occurs even before an action has been commenced, if a litigant or its expert knows or reasonably should know that the evidence might be relevant to a possible action. The threat of a lawsuit must be sufficiently apparent, however, that a reasonable person in the spoliator’s position would realize, at the time of spoliation, the possible importance of the evidence to the resolution of the potential dispute." (Citations omitted.)
Kippenhan, Inc., 428 Mass. at 127. "While a duty to preserve evidence does not arise automatically from a nonparty’s mere knowledge, there are ways that that duty may be imposed on a nonparty." Fletcher, 437 Mass. at 548. For example, witness served with a subpoena duces tecum must preserve evidence in their control when the subpoena is received, or a third-party witness may enter into an agreement to preserve evidence. Id. at 549.
Civil Cases. "[S]anctions for spoliation are carefully tailored to remedy the precise unfairness occasioned by that spoliation. A party’s claim of prejudice stemming from spoliation is addressed within the context of the action that was allegedly affected by that spoliation." Fletcher v. Dorchester Mut. Ins. Co., 437 Mass. 544, 551 (2002). "As a general rule, a judge should impose the least severe sanction necessary to remedy the prejudice to the nonspoliating party." Keene v. Brigham & Women’s Hosp., Inc., 439 Mass. 223, 235 (2003).
"[I]n a civil case, where an expert has removed an item of physical evidence and the item has disappeared, or the expert has caused a change in the substance or appearance of such an item in such circumstances that the expert knows or reasonably should know that that item in its original form may be material to litigation, the judge, at the request of a potentially prejudiced litigant, should preclude the expert from testifying as to his or her observations of such items before he or she altered them and as to any opinion based thereon. The rule should be applied without regard for whether the expert’s conduct occurred before or after the expert was retained by a party to the litigation."
Nally v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 405 Mass. 191, 197–198 (1989). See also Bolton v. MBTA, 32 Mass. App. Ct. 654, 655–657 (1992) (extending rule to cover spoliation of evidence by a party after expert inspection).
"The spectrum of remedies [also] includes allowing the party who has been aggrieved by the spoliation to present evidence about the preaccident condition of the lost evidence and the circumstances surrounding the spoliation, as well as instructing the jury on the inferences that may be drawn from spoliation" (citations omitted). Gath v. M/A-Com, Inc., 440 Mass. 482, 488 (2003). A judge may preclude testimony that is dispositive of the ultimate merits of the case. Fletcher, 437 Mass. at 550. Once the moving party produces evidence sufficient to establish that another party lost or destroyed evidence that the litigant or its expert knew or reasonably should have known might be relevant to a pending or potential case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to prove that it was not at fault. Scott v. Garfield, 454 Mass. 790, 799 (2009). See also Nally, 405 Mass. at 195, 199 (defendant entitled to summary judgment if excluded testimony prevents plaintiff from making prima facie case). For the extreme sanction of dismissal or entering a default judgment, ordinarily a finding of willfulness or bad faith is necessary. Keene, 439 Mass. at 235–236.
Criminal Cases. In Commonwealth v. DiBenedetto, 427 Mass. 414, 419 (1998), the court addressed the appropriate remedial action in criminal cases:
“[W]hen potentially exculpatory evidence is lost or destroyed, a balancing test is employed to determine the appropriateness and extent of remedial action. The courts must weigh the culpability of the Commonwealth, the materiality of the evidence and the potential prejudice to the defendant. To establish prejudice, the defendant must show a reasonable possibility, based on concrete evidence rather than a fertile imagination, that access to the [material] would have produced evidence favorable to [the defendant’s] cause.” (Quotations and citation omitted.)
See also Mass. R. Crim. P. 14(c); Commonwealth v. Olszewski, 416 Mass. 707, 714 (1993), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 835 (1994); Commonwealth v. Willie, 400 Mass. 427, 432–433 (1987); Commonwealth v. Heath, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 328, 335–337 (2016) (conviction reversed for improper calibration of factors of culpability and potential prejudice relating to destroyed evidence, and for insufficiency of remedial action). Remedial action in the form of sanctions or a “missing evidence” instruction is not appropriate unless the defendant meets “his initial burden of showing a reasonable possibility that the lost evidence was exculpatory.” Commonwealth v. Kee, 449 Mass. 550, 554 (2007). If remedial action is required, the judge has the discretion to fashion a remedy that will protect the defendant’s rights. See, e.g., Kee, 449 Mass. at 557–558 (missing evidence instruction); Commonwealth v. Harwood, 432 Mass. 290, 303 (2000) (suppression of evidence). Cf. Commonwealth v. Sasville, 35 Mass. App. Ct. 15, 28 (1993) (dismissal appropriate only where the harm is irremediable). With reference to the Commonwealth’s duty to preserve evidence, see Commonwealth v. Williams, 475 Mass. 705, 722–723 (2016).
Section 1103. Sexually dangerous person proceedings
(a) In general
A person who has been convicted of a sex offense may be confined indefinitely for treatment after the termination of the person’s criminal sentence if the person is found to be a sexually dangerous person (SDP) in accordance with statutory procedures and based on the testimony of a qualified examiner.
In proceedings for the commitment or discharge of a person alleged to be a sexually dangerous person, hearsay evidence is not admissible, except as provided in Subsections (b)(1) and (b)(2) of this section.
(1) Hearsay That Is Admissible. Hearsay consisting of reports or records relating to a person’s criminal conviction, adjudication of juvenile delinquency or as a youthful offender, the person’s psychiatric and psychological records, and a variety of records created or maintained by the courts and other government agencies, as more particularly defined by statute, is admissible in SDP proceedings.
(2) Hearsay That May Be Admissible. In addition to hearsay admissible under Subsection (b)(1), other hearsay may be admissible if it concerns uncharged conduct of the person and is closely related in time and circumstance to a sexual offense for which the person was convicted or adjudicated a juvenile delinquent or youthful offender.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from Johnstone, petitioner, 453 Mass. 544, 547 (2009) (discussing G. L. c. 123A, §§ 12–14), and Green, petitioner, 475 Mass. 624 (2016). Expert witness testimony by a credible qualified examiner is required for a judge or a jury to make the determination that a person is sexually dangerous, and the jury must be instructed to that effect. Green, petitioner, 475 Mass. at 625–626. The Commonwealth has the burden of demonstrating its expert witnesses are qualified examiners for the purpose of G. L. c. 123A, § 1. Commonwealth v. Gaughan, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 74, 79 (2021) ("[witnesses'] testimony about their extensive experience in conducting SDP examinations permitted the judge to infer that both witnesses had, at a minimum, the required experience in 'diagnos[ing]' sexually aggressive offenders"). See Chapman, petitioner, 482 Mass. 293, 304 (2019) (where "both qualified examiners independently conclude that the individual is not sexually dangerous, the Commonwealth is unable to prolong an individual’s confinement beyond the sixty-day examination and diagnosis period").
The current Massachusetts law, G. L. c. 123A, was adopted in 1999, St. 1999, c. 74, §§ 3–8, and is the successor to an earlier statutory scheme for the civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons (St. 1958, c. 646) that was repealed by St. 1990, c. 150, § 304. As a result, the population of the Massachusetts Treatment Center includes persons who are confined under commitment orders made prior to 1990 and subsequent to 1999. Each population has a right to file a petition in the Superior Court each year that requires a redetermination of whether they remain sexually dangerous. See G. L. c. 123A, § 9. The law provides for trial by jury and affords the individual the right to counsel, the right to present evidence, and the right to cross-examine adverse witnesses. Unless the Commonwealth proves that the person remains sexually dangerous beyond a reasonable doubt, the person must be released. See Commonwealth v. Nieves, 446 Mass. 583, 587, 593–594 (2006) (explaining the statutory procedures governing commitment and discharge under G. L. c. 123A). See also Commonwealth v. Curran, 478 Mass. 630, 636 (2018) (right of incompetent defendant to raise defenses in these proceedings includes right to provide expert testimony regarding lack of criminal responsibility). The criteria for commitment are set forth in the definition of a "sexually dangerous person" found in G. L. c. 123A, § 1. See Commonwealth v. Boucher, 438 Mass. 274, 275–281 (2002).
Subsection (b). "It is settled that hearsay not otherwise admissible under the rules of evidence is inadmissible at the trial of a sexually dangerous person petition unless specifically made admissible by statute" (citations omitted). Commonwealth v. Markvart, 437 Mass. 331, 335 (2002). Thus, the catch-all provision found in G. L. c. 123A, § 14(c), ("Any other evidence" tending to show that the person is sexually dangerous), is not interpreted to make any and all hearsay evidence admissible in SDP proceedings. McHoul, petitioner, 445 Mass. 143, 147 n.2 (2005). See also id. at 151 n.6 ("For example, there is no hearsay exception that would allow a party to introduce his own prior statements in the various reports and records; if offered by the petitioner, his own statements would not be the admission of a party opponent."). Live-witness testimony based on direct experience, the substance of which may also be memorialized in a report, is not hearsay and is not affected by G. L. c. 123A, § 14(c). Commonwealth v. Bradshaw, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 477, 481 (2018). It is equally settled that documents made admissible by statute in SDP proceedings such as police reports, psychological assessments, notes about treatment, and the like, are not subject to redaction simply because they contain hearsay statements. See McHoul, petitioner, 445 Mass. at 147–148, 151 n.6.
"When the Legislature identified the specific records and reports that were to be admissible in sexually dangerous person proceedings, it did so with full knowledge that they routinely contain information derived from hearsay sources. Having made such records and reports ‘admissible,’ the Legislature did not intend that the documents be reduced to isolated shreds of partial information that would result from the application of hearsay rules to each individual entry in the documents."
Id. at 150. See also Commonwealth v. Reese, 438 Mass. 519, 527 (2003) (G. L. c. 123A, § 14[c], does not supersede the requirements of the learned-treatise exception to the hearsay rule).
Miscellaneous Evidentiary Rulings. The Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court have addressed several other evidentiary questions that relate to these specialized proceedings. See Johnstone, petitioner, 453 Mass. 544, 550 (2009) (although the annual report of the Community Access Board as to a civilly committed person’s sexual dangerousness is admissible in discharge proceedings under G. L. c. 123A, § 9, the Commonwealth cannot proceed to trial unless at least one of the two qualified examiners opines that the petitioner is a sexually dangerous person); Commonwealth v. Connors, 447 Mass. 313, 317–319 (2006) (alleged sexually dangerous person who exercises right to refuse to speak to qualified examiners may not offer expert testimony based on statements made to own experts; Commonwealth v. Nieves, 446 Mass. 583, 587, 593–594 (2006) (civil commitment of an incompetent person under G. L. c. 123A is not unconstitutional even though no effective treatment is available); Commonwealth v. Callahan, 440 Mass. 436, 439–442 (2004) (G. L. c. 123A, § 13[b], which requires that certain material about a person alleged to be a sexually dangerous person be given to the qualified examiners, does not supersede the patient-psychotherapist privilege); Wyatt, petitioner, 428 Mass. 347, 355–359 (1998) (questions concerning the relevancy and probative value of evidence offered in proceedings under G. L. c. 123A are within the discretion of the trial judge in accordance with Sections 401–403 of this Guide); Commonwealth v. Gaughan, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 74, 81 (2021) (specific unanimity instruction not required when two qualified examiners testified that defendant was likely to reoffend and was sexually dangerous person but diverged as to defendant’s precise diagnosis); Commonwealth v. Bradshaw, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 477, 482 n.8 (2018) (in SDP proceedings, evidence of uncharged sexual misconduct against other children was “inherently relevant and probative on the question of the likelihood of reoffending in the future”); Commonwealth v. Dinardo, 92 Mass. App. Ct. 715, 722 (2018) (report of Commonwealth’s expert psychologist retained prior to filing of petition to commit defendant as a sexually dangerous person, and who was not a designated qualified examiner or defendant’s treating psychiatric specialist, admissible at trial pursuant to G. L. c. 123A, § 14[c]); Gammel, petitioner, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 8, 9 (2014) (qualified examiner was permitted to testify at trial as to his opinion regarding the credibility of statements made by petitioner during evaluation of sexual dangerousness); Kenney, petitioner, 66 Mass. App. Ct. 709, 714–715 (2006) (admissibility of juvenile court records in SDP cases); Commonwealth v. Bradway, 62 Mass. App. Ct. 280, 287 (2004) (if reports of qualified examiners are admitted pursuant to G. L. c. 123A, § 14[c], the author of report must be made available for cross-examination). While G. L. c. 123A, § 14(c), authorizes the admission of reports made by qualified examiners without the usual analysis of the Daubert-Lanigan foundation requirements, the trial judge may consider other objections to admissibility such as the lack of qualifications of the examiner, due process considerations, and bias or conflict of interest so severe as to disqualify the examiner. Commonwealth v. Baxter, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 587, 590 (2018).
Hearsay Evidence Excluded. Police reports and out-of-court statements of witnesses from cases in which the charges have been dismissed or nolle prossed or in which the defendant was found not guilty are not statements of “prior sexual offenses,” as set forth in G. L. c. 123A, § 14(c), and thus are inadmissible as hearsay. See Commonwealth v. Markvart, 437 Mass. 331, 335–336 (2002). Cf. Commonwealth v. Mackie, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 78, 87–88 (2021) (police reports underlying crime of assault and battery to which defendant pleaded guilty not admissible under Section 14(c) where Commonwealth did not prove that crime was sexual in nature). However, this does not mean that the testimony of witnesses with personal knowledge of the facts in cases that were dismissed or nolle prossed cases would be inadmissible in SDP cases. See Markvart, 437 Mass. at 337. Similarly, “Markvart does not limit a witness’s ability to testify about uncharged sexual misconduct during a trial on a sexually dangerous person petition.” Commonwealth v. Bradshaw, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 477, 481–482 (2018).
Subsection (b)(1). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 123A, §§ 6A, 9, and 14(c). In proceedings for the initial commitment of a person under Section 12 (including the preliminary, probable cause hearing) and the discharge of committed persons under Section 9, the Legislature has removed many of the barriers against the admissibility of hearsay evidence. G. L. c. 123A, §§ 6A, 9, and 14(c). The case law has harmonized these sections so that the general rule is that hearsay admissible in a proceeding under G. L. c. 123A, § 12, is also admissible in a proceeding under Section 9. These statutory provisions permit psychiatrists or psychologists who are qualified examiners, see G. L. c. 123A, § 1, to testify as experts without an independent determination by the court that they are qualified and that their testimony meets standards of reliability under Section 702, Testimony by Expert Witnesses. See Commonwealth v. Bradway, 62 Mass. App. Ct. 280, 285–289 (2004) (admission of testimony and reports of qualified examiners as to a person’s sexual dangerousness does not require the court to assess reliability under the standards established in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 , and Commonwealth v. Lanigan, 419 Mass. 15 ). Cf. Ready, petitioner, 63 Mass. App. Ct. 171, 172–179 (2005) (in a Section 9 proceeding, the trial judge was correct in excluding the results of the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest test administered by an independent expert witness for the petitioner on grounds that it was not generally accepted by the relevant scientific community and thus not reliable under the Daubert-Lanigan standard).
Hearsay Evidence Expressly Made Admissible by Statute. Under G. L. c. 123A, § 6A, reports by the community access board of evaluations of residents of the Massachusetts Treatment Center are admissible in proceedings for discharge under G. L. c. 123A, § 9. Under G. L. c. 123A, §§ 9 and 14(c), reports prepared by qualified examiners are admissible. The phrase “psychiatric and psychological records” in G. L. c. 123A, § 9, includes the reports prepared by psychiatrists and psychologists who have been retained as expert witnesses by the petitioner in connection with a Section 9 petition for examination and discharge. Santos, petitioner, 461 Mass. 565, 573 (2012). The cognate phrase in G. L. c. 123A, § 14(c), will be interpreted in the same manner. Id. at 573 n.10. There also is a broad exemption from the hearsay rule found in G. L. c. 123A, § 14(c), which states that the following records are admissible in proceedings under G. L. c. 123A, § 12, for the initial commitment of an offender as a sexually dangerous person:
“Juvenile and adult court probation records, psychiatric and psychological records and reports of the person named in the petition, including the report of any qualified examiner, as defined in section 1, and filed under this chapter, police reports relating to such person’s prior sexual offenses, incident reports arising out of such person’s incarceration or custody, oral or written statements prepared for and to be offered at the trial by the victims of the person who is the subject of the petition and any other evidence tending to show that such person is or is not a sexually dangerous person shall be admissible at the trial if such written information has been provided to opposing counsel reasonably in advance of trial.”
See also Commonwealth v. Morales, 60 Mass. App. Ct. 728, 730 (2004) (“[Department of Social Services] reports and grand jury minutes containing information about victims of sexual offenses committed against them by a defendant convicted of those offenses are directly admissible in evidence at trials on petitions brought under G. L. c. 123A, § 14[a]”). Under G. L. c. 123A, § 9, either side may introduce in evidence the report of a qualified examiner, the petitioner’s “juvenile and adult court and probation records,” the petitioner’s “psychiatric and psychological records,” and the Department of Correction’s updated annual progress report pertaining to the petitioner. Constitutional challenges to the Legislature’s relaxation of the rule against the admissibility of hearsay in SDP cases were considered and rejected by the Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Given, 441 Mass. 741, 746–748 (2004).
When Hearsay Evidence Is the Basis of Expert Testimony. In Commonwealth v. Markvart, 437 Mass. 331, 336–339 (2002), the Supreme Judicial Court applied Department of Youth Servs. v. A Juvenile, 398 Mass. 516, 531 (1986), see Section 703(c), Bases of Opinion Testimony by Experts, and harmonized the demands of the more general law of evidence and the special statutory exemptions from the hearsay rule found in G. L. c. 123A, §§ 9 and 14(c). The Supreme Judicial Court held that in an SDP proceeding, a qualified examiner could base an expert opinion on police reports and witness statements pertaining to the sex offender even though the information is not in evidence, as long as the information could be admitted if the witnesses were called to testify. Markvart, 437 Mass. at 337–338. Because the statutes, G. L. c. 123A, §§ 9 and 14(c), make the reports of these qualified examiners admissible, any independently admissible hearsay contained in such reports that is not admitted during the trial must be redacted from the reports before it is presented to the jury. Id. at 339. The reason why redaction is required in such cases is not because the qualified examiner’s report contains hearsay within hearsay, but rather because the report is the equivalent of an expert witness’s direct testimony which cannot be used as a vehicle for putting before the jury facts not in evidence. See McHoul, petitioner, 445 Mass. 143, 148 n.4 (2005).
Subsection (b)(2). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Given, 441 Mass. 741, 745 (2004). The Supreme Judicial Court explained that in proceedings under G. L. c. 123A, § 9 or § 12, G. L. c. 123A, § 14(c), makes admissible evidence of uncharged conduct when it is closely related in time and circumstance to the underlying sexual offense. Id. Cf. id. at 746 n.6 (“We do not consider or decide whether statements in a police report that include information concerning uncharged misconduct completely unrelated in time and circumstance to the underlying sexual offense must be redacted.”).
Standard of Review. “Given the fundamental liberty interest at stake in sexual dangerousness proceedings, we consider it appropriate to review arguments that are raised for the first time on appeal. When evaluating such unpreserved arguments, we apply the same standard governing criminal cases: review for a substantial miscarriage of justice.” R.B., petitioner, 479 Mass. 712, 717 (2018).
Cross-Reference: Section 103(e), Rulings on Evidence, Objections, and Offers of Proof: Substantial Risk of a Miscarriage of Justice.
Section 1104. Witness cooperation agreements
In a criminal case in which there is a written agreement between the Commonwealth and a witness in which the Commonwealth makes a promise to the witness in relation to the charges or the sentence in exchange for the testimony of the witness at trial, the use and admission of the agreement by the Commonwealth at trial is within the discretion of the trial judge subject to the following guidelines:
(a) On direct examination, the prosecution may properly bring out the fact that the witness has entered into a plea agreement and that the witness generally understands the obligations under it.
(b) The agreement itself is admissible. The timing of the admission of the agreement is within the judge’s discretion. The judge may defer admission of the agreement until redirect examination, after the defendant has undertaken to impeach the witness’s credibility by showing that the witness had struck a deal with the prosecution in order to obtain favorable treatment.
(c) References to a witness’s obligation to tell the truth, any certification or acknowledgment by the witness's attorney, and any provision that suggests that the Commonwealth has special knowledge as to the veracity of the witness’s testimony should be redacted from the agreement, on request.
(d) Ordinarily, questions by the prosecutor about the duty of the witness to tell the truth and the reading of the agreement are not permitted until redirect examination and after the witness has been cross-examined on the matter.
(e) Care must be taken by the Commonwealth not to suggest, by questions or argument, that it has knowledge of the credibility of the witness independent of the evidence.
(f) The trial judge must instruct the jury by focusing their attention on the particular care they should give in evaluating testimony given pursuant to a plea agreement that is contingent on the witness’s telling the truth.
Subsections (a) and (b). These subsections are taken nearly verbatim from Commonwealth v. Ciampa, 406 Mass. 257, 264 (1989). See also Commonwealth v. Rivera, 430 Mass. 91, 96 (1999).
Subsection (c). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Conkey, 430 Mass. 139, 147 (1999), and Commonwealth v. Ciampa, 406 Mass. 257, 261–262 (1989). Where defense counsel does not request redactions to the plea agreement, none are required. See Commonwealth v. Sun, 490 Mass. 196, 216–217 (2022).
Subsections (d) and (e). These subsections are derived from Commonwealth v. Rivera, 430 Mass. 91, 96–97 (1999), and Commonwealth v. Ciampa, 406 Mass. 257, 264–265 (1989). See also Commonwealth v. Webb, 468 Mass. 26, 32–34 (2014) (no error in permitting prosecutor to inquire on direct examination into witness’s agreement to provide truthful testimony after defense counsel had attacked witness’s credibility during opening statement).
Subsection (f). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Ciampa, 406 Mass. 257, 266 (1989), and Commonwealth v. Asmeron, 70 Mass. App. Ct. 667, 675 (2007). See Commonwealth v. Meuse, 423 Mass. 831, 832 (1996) (reversible error where prosecutor vouched for witness testifying pursuant to plea agreement and judge failed to give Ciampa-type instruction); Commonwealth v. Daye, 411 Mass. 719, 739–740 (1992) (no special instruction necessary as it did not appear that evidence presented realistic possibility that jury would believe witness’s testimony based on her agreement to tell truth); Commonwealth v. Colon, 408 Mass. 419, 445 (1990) (no special instructions necessary where plea agreement does not condition immunization on truthfulness). See also Commonwealth v. Duke, 489 Mass. 649, 665–666 (2022) (declining to extend corrobo-ration requirement for immunized testimony under G. L. c. 233, § 20I, to cooperating witnesses, as special instruction pursuant to Commonwealth v. Thomas, 439 Mass. 362, 372 , ade-quately protects defendant’s right to due process).
General Application. The above guidelines also apply to nonbinding pretrial “agreements.” See Commonwealth v. Davis, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 75, 78–79 & n.7 (2001) (holding that Ciampa’s prophylactic measures are applicable in circumstances in which Commonwealth witness testified that, after he was charged with distribution of marijuana, he agreed to help police arrest others involved in illegal sale of drugs in exchange for nonspecific “consideration” from prosecution). A defendant has the right to bring to the attention of the jury any “quid pro quo” agreement between the prosecution and a testifying witness, whether formal or informal, written or unwritten. See id. at 78 n.7; Commonwealth v. O’Neil, 51 Mass. App. Ct. 170, 179 (2001).
In Commonwealth v. Prater, 431 Mass. 86, 98 (2000), the Supreme Judicial Court indicated that the “better practice” is for the trial judge to include in the cautionary instruction a warning that the jury should not consider an accomplice’s guilty plea as evidence against the defendant.
An agreement that obligates a witness to testify to some particular version of the facts in exchange for a charge or sentence concession would be grounds for a motion to preclude the testimony or to strike it. See Commonwealth v. Ciampa, 406 Mass. 257, 261 n.5 (1989) (“Testimony pursuant to a plea agreement made contingent on obtaining . . . a conviction, as a result of the witness’s testimony, would presumably present too great an inducement to lie, [and] would not meet the test of fundamental fairness.”). See also Commonwealth v. Colon-Cruz, 408 Mass. 533, 553 (1990) (“[W]e do not condone the use of agreements which do not require a witness to tell the truth. Such agreements are antithetical to the fair administration of justice. . . . [F]uture plea agreements [should] be drafted so as to make the obligation to testify truthfully clear to the witness[.]”).
Cross-Reference: Section 611(b)(2), Mode and Order of Examining Witnesses and Presenting Evidence: Scope of Cross-Examination: Bias and Prejudice.
Section 1105. Third-party culprit evidence
Evidence that a third party committed the crimes charged against the defendant, or had the motive, intent, and opportunity to commit the crimes, is admissible provided that the evidence has substantial probative value. In making this determination, the court must make a preliminary finding that the evidence is relevant, is not too remote or speculative, and will not tend to prejudice or confuse the jury. If the evidence is otherwise inadmissible, the court must also find that there are substantial connecting links between the crime charged and a third party or between the crime charged and another crime that could not have been committed by the defendant.
Third-party culprit evidence—evidence that someone else committed the crime charged, or had the motive, intent, and opportunity to do so—is “a time-honored method of defending against a criminal charge.” Commonwealth v. Rosa, 422 Mass. 18, 22 (1996). A defendant possesses a fundamental due process right to present such evidence, Commonwealth v. Jewett, 392 Mass. 558, 562 (1984), and doubts about admissibility should be resolved in the defendant’s favor, Commonwealth v. Conkey, 443 Mass. 60, 66 (2004). Because the issue implicates constitutional rights, appellate courts review the decision to exclude third-party culprit evidence independently, rather than for abuse of discretion, and the erroneous exclusion of such evidence, upon proper objection, requires reversal unless harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Conkey, 443 Mass. at 66–67, 70. See also Commonwealth v. Buckman, 461 Mass. 24, 29–30 (2011) (trial judge had discretion to rule in advance of trial that defendant had not made adequate showing that three potential culprits were connected to the crime, and that defendant should provide advance warning to court before offering evidence or argument at trial of third-party culprit).
Defendants may introduce evidence showing that another person committed the crime charged or had the motive, intent, and opportunity to do so, see Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782, 800 (2009); that another person recently committed a similar crime by similar methods, see Jewett, 392 Mass. at 562–563; or that another person in a position to commit the charged crime had previously committed other bad acts that are related to the charged crime, see Conkey, 443 Mass. at 67–70.
While defendants are entitled to wide latitude in introducing third-party culprit evidence, the evidence must be relevant—that is, it must have a rational tendency to prove the issue raised by the defense—and cannot be too remote or speculative. Commonwealth v. Steadman, 489 Mass. 372, 383 (2022). See Commonwealth v. Andrade, 488 Mass. 522, 532–533 (2021) (evidence of ballistics match between shell casing found at scene and shell casing associated with unsolved 2006 murder properly excluded; evidence could have confused jury absent further evidence connecting unsolved murder to individuals involved in defendant’s case, and such evidence, even if available, would have created distracting “trial within a trial”).
Evidence of a third party’s ill will or possible motive to commit the charged crime, standing alone, is insufficient to qualify as third-party culprit evidence. The evidence must also show that the alleged third-party culprit had the intent and opportunity to commit the crime. Commonwealth v. Scott, 470 Mass. 320, 328–329 (2014). Compare Steadman, 489 Mass. at 383 (noting that defendant was permitted to introduce evidence that alleged third-party culprit had loud argument with victim the morning before murder at campground where victim’s body was found), and Conkey, 443 Mass. at 70 (reversible error to exclude evidence of alleged third-party culprit’s motive to commit sexual assault where third party was victim’s landlord, possessed key to her home, and had recently opened lingerie drawer in her bedroom), with Andrade, 488 Mass. at 533 (evidence that rival gang members lived near shooting and were involved in feud with victims not sufficient to support third-party culprit defense where there was no evidence that they had been nearby at time of shooting and only defendant and intended victim were seen holding guns), and Commonwealth v. Rice, 441 Mass. 291, 305–306 (2004) (evidence that alleged third-party culprit had threatened to kill victim more than one year before her murder properly excluded where no other evidence tended to show third party had been involved in murder).
In “rare circumstances,” the defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense may require the admission of otherwise inadmissible hearsay evidence to establish a third-party culprit defense. Commonwealth v. Drew, 397 Mass. 65, 72 (1986). Such evidence is admissible “only if, in the judge’s discretion, the evidence is otherwise relevant, will not tend to prejudice or confuse the jury, and there are other substantial connecting links to the crime.” Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782, 801 (2009). See Commonwealth v. Morgan, 449 Mass. 343, 358 (2007) (absent witness’s statement that third party told her that he had shot victim was not admissible as statement against penal interest or as third-party culprit evidence where statement was not corroborated and third party denied making the statement when interviewed by police); Commonwealth v. O’Brien, 432 Mass. 578, 588–589 (2000) (evidence that victim had expressed fear of third party correctly excluded where there were no substantial links between third party and crime because it amounted to nothing more than witness’s opinion that third party committed crime).
A trial judge need not give a specific instruction on third-party culprit evidence so long as the jury instructions, taken as a whole, adequately convey the Commonwealth’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime charged. Commonwealth v. Hoose, 467 Mass. 395, 412–413 (2014). “[T]he Commonwealth does not have the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that some third party is not guilty of the charged crime.” Id. at 412.
Rebutting Third-Party Culprit Defense. Where the Commonwealth seeks to obtain a DNA buccal swab from a third party to foreclose a possible third-party culprit defense, it bears the burden of establishing probable cause that a crime has been committed and that the sample probably will provide evidence relevant to the question of the defendant’s guilt. Commonwealth v. Kostka, 471 Mass. 656, 659 (2015) (DNA buccal swab of defendant’s twin brother).
Admission to Establish Inadequate Investigation. Evidence that does not qualify as third-party culprit evidence may nonetheless be admissible as Bowden evidence, see Commonwealth v. Bowden, 379 Mass. 472 (1980), that is, evidence offered to establish the inadequacy of a police investigation. See Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782, 802 (2009) (explaining that “information regarding a third-party culprit, whose existence was known to the police but whose potential involvement was never investigated, may be admissible under a Bowden defense even though it may not otherwise be admissible under a third-party culprit defense”).
Cross-Reference: Section 403, Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion, Waste of Time, or Other Reason; Section 1107, Inadequate Police Investigation Evidence.
Section 1106. Abuse prevention and harassment prevention proceedings
In all civil proceedings under G. L. c. 209A (abuse prevention) and G. L. c. 258E (harassment prevention), the law of evidence should be applied flexibly by taking into consideration the personal and emotional nature of the issues involved, whether one or both of the parties are self-represented, and the need for fairness to all parties.
Introduction. This section is derived from G. L. c. 209A; G. L. c. 258E; Frizado v. Frizado, 420 Mass. 592, 597–598 (1995); O’Brien v. Borowski, 461 Mass. 415 (2012), overruled on another ground by Seney v. Morhy, 467 Mass. 58, 60 (2014); and the Guidelines for Judicial Practice: Abuse Prevention Proceedings (Oct. 2021), at https://perma.cc/UA7V-UWR3.
The Abuse Prevention Act was enacted as G. L. c. 209A in 1978 to address the problem of domestic violence in the Commonwealth. Commonwealth v. Dufresne, 489 Mass. 195, 197–198 (2022). “To this end, c. 209A ‘provides a statutory mechanism by which victims of family or household abuse can enlist the aid of the State to prevent further abuse through [civil] orders prohibiting a defendant from abusing or contacting the victim.’” Id. at 198, quoting MacDonald v. Caruso, 467 Mass. 382, 385 (2014). See G. L. c. 209A, § 3A.
An Act Relative to Harassment Prevention Orders was enacted as G. L. c. 258E in 2010 “to allow individuals to obtain civil restraining orders against persons who are not family or household members, and to make the violation of those orders punishable as a crime.” O’Brien, 461 Mass. at 419. The law was intended to protect victims of “harassment,” as that term is defined by G. L. c. 258E, § 1, who could not legally seek protective orders under Chapter 209A due to the lack of a familial or romantic relationship with the perpetrator. Id. Because of its origin and purpose, much of the language in Chapter 258E is analogous to the language found in Chapter 209A. J.S.H. v. J.S., 91 Mass. App. Ct. 107, 109 (2017).
There are many parallels between proceedings brought under Chapter 209A and those brought under Chapter 258E. See F.A.P. v. J.E.S., 87 Mass. App. Ct. 595, 602 (2015). Essentially the same analysis applies to abuse prevention orders issued pursuant to Chapter 209A and harassment prevention orders issued pursuant to Chapter 258E, except where the statutory language is different. O’Brien, 461 Mass. at 417–418; Tom T. v. Lewis L., 97 Mass. App. Ct. 698, 700 (2020); F.A.P. v. J.E.S., 87 Mass. App. Ct. at 602.
Standard for Abuse Prevention Order. Abuse prevention orders pursuant to Chapter 209A require plaintiffs to show by a preponderance of the evidence that they have been subject to abuse. Frizado v. Frizado, 420 Mass. 592, 597 (1995).
“Abuse” is defined as “the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members: (a) attempting to cause or causing physical harm; (b) placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm; [or] (c) causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress.” G. L. c. 209A, § 1.
“Family or household members” are defined as “persons who: (a) are or were married to one another; (b) are or were residing together in the same household; (c) are or were related by blood or marriage; (d) having a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together; or (e) are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship.” G. L. c. 209A, § 1.
To determine if a substantive dating or engagement relationship exists, courts must consider the following factors: “(1) the length of time of the relationship; (2) the type of relationship; (3) the frequency of interaction between the parties; and (4) if the relationship has been terminated by either person, the length of time elapsed since the termination of the relationship.” G. L. c. 209A, § 1. The existence of a substantive dating relationship is an element of a Chapter 209A claim, not a prerequisite for subject matter jurisdiction. V.M. v. R.B., 94 Mass. App. Ct. 522, 524 (2018).
Standard for Harassment Prevention Order. Harassment prevention orders pursuant to Chapter 258E require plaintiffs to show by a preponderance of the evidence either that the defendant (1) committed “[three] or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person . . . with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and that [did] in fact cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property,” or (2) committed an act “by force, threat or duress [that] cause[d] another to involuntarily engage in sexual relations,” or an act that constitutes any of twelve enumerated crimes, including rape, indecent assault and battery, assault with intent to commit rape, enticement, stalking, criminal harassment, and drugging persons for sexual intercourse. G. L. c. 258E, § 1. See A.R. v. L.C., 93 Mass. App. Ct. 758, 759 (2018); J.C. v. J.H., 92 Mass. App. Ct. 224, 227 (2017); A.T. v. C.R., 88 Mass. App. Ct. 532, 535 (2015).
To obtain a Chapter 258E order based on three acts of harassment, “[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of proving that each of the three qualifying acts was maliciously intended, defined by G. L. c. 258E, § 1, as being ‘characterized by cruelty, hostility or revenge,’ and that each act was intended by the defendant to place the plaintiff in ‘fear of physical harm or fear of physical damage to property.’” A.T. v. C.R., 88 Mass. App. Ct. at 535, quoting O’Brien v. Borowski, 461 Mass. 415, 427 (2012). See G. L. c. 258E, § 1; Van Liew v. Stansfield, 474 Mass. 31, 36–38 (2016); Seney v. Morhy, 467 Mass. 58, 60 (2014); V.J. v. N.J., 91 Mass. App. Ct. 22, 25 (2017). If the conduct is speech alone, each of the acts aimed at a specific person must be either a “true threat” or “fighting words.” A.R. v. L.C., 93 Mass. App. Ct. at 760.
Alternatively, the plaintiff can prove harassment by a single act if the allegations are a forced sexual act or one of the twelve specifically enumerated sex crimes. Yasmin Y. v. Queshon Q., 101 Mass. App. Ct. 252, 256 (2022). “Where a harassment prevention order is based on this showing, ‘[p]roof that the defendant intended to instill fear, and if fact did so, would be wholly unnecessary.’” Id., quoting F.A.P. v. J.E.S., 87 Mass. App. Ct. 595, 599 (2015).
Jurisdiction. Abuse prevention orders can be obtained in the Superior Court, the Boston Municipal Court, the District Court, or the Probate and Family Court. G. L. c. 209A, § 2. They can be obtained in the Probate and Family Court as part of divorce proceedings, G. L. c. 208, §§ 18, 34B, 34C; adjudication between spouses, G. L. c. 209, § 32; or paternity actions, G. L. c. 209A, §§ 15, 20. See Commonwealth v. Dufresne, 489 Mass. 195, 198 (2022).
Harassment prevention orders can be obtained in the Superior Court, the Boston Municipal Court, the District Court, and the Juvenile Court. G. L. c. 258E, § 2. The Juvenile Court has exclusive jurisdiction over harassment prevention orders in which the defendant is a juvenile. Id.
Evidentiary Principles Applicable in G. L. c. 209A and G. L. c. 258E Proceedings. Strict evidentiary standards need not be followed in abuse prevention and harassment prevention proceedings, provided that the court ensures fairness in considering the nature of the evidence admitted and relied upon. See Frizado v. Frizado, 420 Mass. 592, 597–598 (1995). “The Legislature devised a procedure in G. L. c. 209A that is intended to be expeditious and as comfortable as it reasonably can be for a lay person to pursue.” Id. at 598. “Proceedings held pursuant to G. L. c. 209A are no different than any other adversarial hearings in that each party has a right to present evidence, and the moving party must satisfy the burden of proof and subject its witnesses to cross-examination.” C.O. v. M.M., 442 Mass. 648, 657 (2004). See S.T. v. E.M., 80 Mass. App. Ct. 423, 429–431 (2011).
Procedure. Obtaining and maintaining an abuse prevention order or a harassment prevention order generally involves three separate hearings: (1) an initial ex parte hearing, (2) an initial notice hearing (sometimes called a ten-day hearing), and (3) a renewal hearing. See Commonwealth v. Dufresne, 489 Mass. 195, 199 (2022). The renewal hearing, also called an extension hearing, occurs some period of time, usually one year, after the order is issued at the initial notice hearing. Id., citing G. L. c. 209A, § 3.
Application and Ex Parte Hearing. Civil proceedings under G. L. c. 209A or G. L. c. 258E are commenced by filing a complaint. See M.G. v. G.A., 94 Mass. App. Ct. 139, 145 n.7 (2018), citing G. L. c. 209A, § 3A; G. L. c. 258E, § 3. Upon the filing of the complaint, the court holds an ex parte hearing. G. L. c. 209A, § 4; G. L. c. 258E, § 5.
A plaintiff may obtain a temporary protective order in an ex parte proceeding, provided that the defendant is given an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing within ten court business days after the ex parte order is entered. Smith v. Jones, 67 Mass. App. Ct. 129, 133 (2006), citing G. L. c. 209A, § 4; G. L. c. 258E, § 5. “[First, a] temporary abuse prevention order may issue ex parte for up to ten court business days where a plaintiff shows a ‘substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse.’” Dufresne, 489 Mass. at 199, quoting G. L. c. 209A, § 4. A temporary harassment prevention order may enter “[i]f the plaintiff demonstrates a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of harassment.” G. L. c. 258E, § 5. The plaintiff’s burden of proof is preponderance of the evidence. Frizado v. Frizado, 420 Mass. 592, 597 (1995); M.G. v. G.A., 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 148.
Under certain circumstances, a plaintiff may obtain an initial ex parte abuse prevention order or an emergency harassment prevention order without first filing a complaint. See F.K. v. S.C., 481 Mass. 325, 331 (2019), citing G. L. c. 258E, § 6; G. L. c. 209A, § 5. If the court is closed for business, the plaintiff may obtain a temporary emergency order if the plaintiff “demonstrates a substantial likelihood of immediate danger” of abuse or harassment. G. L. c. 209A, § 5; G. L. c. 258E, § 6. If physically able, the plaintiff “shall appear in court on the next available business day to file [a] complaint.” G. L. c. 209A, § 5; G. L. c. 258E, § 6.
Notice Hearing. At the initial hearing after notice, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that extension of the ex parte order is necessary to protect the plaintiff from “abuse” as defined in G. L. c. 209A, § 1, or “harassment” as defined in G. L. c. 258E, § 1. See Iamele v. Asselin, 444 Mass. 734, 739 (2005); Noelle N. v. Frasier F., 97 Mass. App. Ct. 660, 664 (2020). The procedure is as follows:
“The burden is on the complainant to establish facts justifying the issuance and continuance of [the] order. The court must on request grant a ‘defendant an opportunity to be heard on the question of continuing the temporary order and of granting other relief.’ That opportunity, however, places no burden on a defendant to testify or to present evidence.”
Frizado, 420 Mass. at 596, quoting G. L. c. 209A, § 4. See M.G. v. G.A., 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 148 (judges may not “dismiss a complaint at the close of the plaintiff’s case simply because they do not believe some or all of the plaintiff’s testimony. Instead, the resolution of questions of credibility, ambiguity, and contradiction must await the close of the evidence”).
“No presumption arises from the initial orders; ‘it is the plaintiff’s burden to establish that the facts that exist at the time extension of the order is sought justify relief.’” MacDonald v. Caruso, 467 Mass. 382, 386 (2014), quoting Smith v. Jones, 67 Mass. App. Ct. 129, 133–134 (2006). Accord Yasmin Y. v. Queshon Q., 101 Mass. App. Ct. 252, 258 n.11 (2022) (“An ex parte order is entitled to no weight and the issues must be relitigated anew at the hearing after notice if the defendant appears.”). However, when a defendant has notice of the two-party hearing but fails to appear, the temporary order shall continue in effect. G. L. c. 209A, § 4; G. L. c. 258E, § 5.
Renewal Hearing. “At a renewal hearing, a judge’s discretion is broad: she may permit the existing order to expire without renewal; she may issue a permanent order; or she may issue an order of shorter duration of ‘any time reasonably necessary’ to protect the abused person.” Crenshaw v. Macklin, 430 Mass. 633, 635 (2000), quoting G. L. c. 209A, § 3.
- Standard for Renewal of Order Based on Fear of Abuse. Where a prior Chapter 209A order was based on a reasonable fear of imminent serious physical harm, the plaintiff must prove reasonable fear anew at each extension hearing. Iamele, 444 Mass. at 740–741; Yasmin Y., 101 Mass. App. Ct. at 258. “This does not mean that the restrained party may challenge the evidence underlying the initial order.” Iamele, 444 Mass. at 740. “[T]he plaintiff is not required to re-establish facts sufficient to support that initial grant of an abuse prevention order.” Vittone v. Clairmont, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 479, 485 (2005), quoting Rauseo v. Rauseo, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 911, 913 (2001).
- Standard for Renewal of Order Based on Sex Crime or Actual Sexual or Physical Abuse. Extension of an order based on past sexual or physical abuse should be granted if the order is necessary to protect the plaintiff from the impact of the past abuse; such an extension need not be based on a threat of future harm. Vera V. v. Seymour S., 98 Mass. App. Ct. 315, 318 (2020); Yahna Y. v. Sylvester S., 97 Mass. App. Ct. 184, 186–187 (2020); Callahan v. Callahan, 85 Mass. App. Ct. 369, 374 (2014). See Yasmin Y., 101 Mass. App. Ct. at 257 (court erred in denying requested extension of order because judge considered anew whether prior acts of indecent assault and battery had occurred, rather than simply determining whether there was a continued need for order). “[A]n extension is warranted if ‘there is a continued need for the order because the damage resulting from that physical harm [or sexual assault] affects the victim even when further physical attack [or sexual assault] is not reasonably imminent.'” Vera V., 98 Mass. App. Ct. at 317, quoting Callahan, 85 Mass. App. Ct. at 374.“Rather than reconsider whether the underlying acts of [sexual of physical abuse] occurred, a judge should simply determine whether the plaintiff has shown that ‘an order [i]s necessary to protect [the plaintiff] from the impact of that’ prior [act].” Yasmin Y., 101 Mass. App. Ct. at 259, quoting Yahna Y., 97 Mass. App. Ct. at 187.
Termination and Expiration of Orders. “At any point, either party may petition the court to terminate or otherwise modify an existing order.” Commonwealth v. Dufresne, 489 Mass. 195, 199 (2022), citing G. L. c. 209A, § 3. A defendant who seeks to terminate a Chapter 209A order must prove by clear and convincing evidence that there has been a significant change in circumstances such that the protected party no longer has a reasonable fear of imminent serious physical harm from the defendant, and that continuation of the order would therefore not be equitable. The mere passage of time, during which the defendant has complied with the order, is not alone sufficient to justify termination. MacDonald v. Caruso, 467 Mass. 382, 388–389 (2014); Constance C. v. Raymond R., 101 Mass. App. Ct. 390, 394, n.9 (2022); L.L. v. M.M., 95 Mass. App. Ct. 18, 22–23 (2019). See MacDonald, 467 Mass. at 393 (“To prove that he had truly ‘moved on with his life,’ the defendant . . . needed to demonstrate not only that he has moved on to another relationship but also that he has ‘moved on’ from his history of domestic abuse and retaliation.”). A judge must not, over objection, vacate an abuse or harassment prevention order without holding an evidentiary hearing. See Singh v. Capuano, 468 Mass. 328, 331 (2014).
“In the context of c. 209A and c. 258E orders, trial courts have used ‘vacated’ and ‘terminated’ interchangeably.” J.S.H. v. J.S., 91 Mass. App. Ct. 107, 108 n.2 (2017). “Expiration” of an order, however, is different from “termination.” Allen v. Allen, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 403, 405 (2016). See Iamele v. Asselin, 444 Mass. 734, 741–742 (2005) (judge’s sua sponte decision to vacate original order, set to expire at 4 p.m., was error as only issue before judge was whether order should be extended). If the plaintiff fails to appear at the hearing after notice, and the defendant does appear, or if neither party appears, the order expires by its terms at 4:00 p.m. See Guidelines for Judicial Practice: Abuse Prevention Proceedings § 5:06 (Oct. 2021), at https://perma.cc/UA7V-UWR3. Termination of a Chapter 209A or Chapter 258E order, in contrast, requires the issuing court to notify the relevant law enforcement agency and to “direct the agency to destroy all record” of such terminated orders. Tom T. v. Lewis L., 97 Mass. App. Ct. 698, 699 n.5 (2020), quoting citing G. L. c. 258E, § 9, par. 3, See citing G. L. c. 209A, § 7, par. 3.
Meaningful Opportunity to Challenge. Because Chapter 209A and Chapter 258E proceedings are civil in nature, the constitutional right to confront witnesses does not apply. Frizado v. Frizado, 420 Mass. 592, 596 n.3 (1995). The defendant, however, has a “general right to cross-examine witnesses against him” under a “due process, fairness standard.” Id. at 597–598 & n.5.
“There may be circumstances in which the judge properly may deny [the right to cross-examine witnesses] in a G. L. c. 209A hearing, and certainly a judge may limit cross-examination for good cause in an exercise of discretion.” Frizado, 420 Mass. at 597. See A.P. v. M.T., 92 Mass. App. Ct. 156, 167–168 (2017) (judge did not abuse discretion in limiting cross-examination of minor plaintiff’s mother, as minor defendants’ attorneys were given meaningful opportunity to cross-examine). The Supreme Judicial Court has cautioned against “the use of cross examination for harassment or discovery purposes. However, each side must be given a meaningful opportunity to challenge the other’s evidence” (quotation omitted). Frizado, 420 Mass. at 598 n.5. See C.O. v. M.M., 442 Mass. 648, 656–658 (2004) (defendant’s due process rights were violated when court refused to permit him to cross-examine witnesses or to present evidence); Idris I. v. Hazel H., 100 Mass. App. Ct. 784, 790 (2022); S.T. v. E.M., 80 Mass. App. Ct. 423, 431 (2011).
A meaningful opportunity to challenge includes access to the plaintiff’s evidence against the defendant. See Idris I., 100 Mass. App. Ct. at 789–790 (judge improperly considered evidence that defendant had never seen and thus was unable to challenge). The meaningful opportunity to challenge also relates to the plaintiff:
“Because the majority of these cases involve self-represented parties, inviting the defendant to present evidence, which in turn gives the plaintiff the opportunity to cross-examine the defendant or any witnesses the defendant may call, may produce relevant and probative evidence that otherwise would not be presented. If the defendant does not wish to present any evidence, the judge may, at that point, make credibility determinations and adjudicate the case in the ordinary course.”
M.G. v. G.A., 94 Mass. App. Ct. 139, 147 (2018).
Defendant’s Right to Be Heard. “A defendant must be provided a meaningful opportunity to be heard in a G. L. c. 209A proceeding.” Idris I. v. Hazel H., 100 Mass. App. Ct. 784, 790 (2022). This includes the defendant’s right to testify and to present evidence. Frizado v. Frizado, 420 Mass. 592, 597 (1995). It is not sufficient to hear from the defendant’s attorney and to deny the defendant the opportunity to present evidence. C.O. v. M.M., 442 Mass. 648, 657 (2004). Arguments of counsel are not a substitute for evidence or the defendant’s right to testify. Idris I., 100 Mass. App. Ct. at 789. The plaintiff has a corresponding right to present evidence prior to the judge vacating any part of an abuse prevention order. Singh v. Capuano, 468 Mass. 328, 331 (2014); S.T. v. E.M., 80 Mass. App. Ct. 423, 429–430 (2011).
Adverse Inference from Invocation of Privilege Against Self-Incrimination. A judge may draw an adverse inference against a defendant, including a juvenile, who invokes the privilege against self-incrimination and declines to testify at a Chapter 209A or Chapter 258E hearing. See A.P. v. M.T., 92 Mass. App. Ct. 156, 166 (2017). The adverse inference alone, however, is not sufficient to justify the issuance of an order. Frizado v. Frizado, 420 Mass. 592, 596 (1995). See also Smith v. Joyce, 421 Mass. 520, 523 n.1 (1995) (judge may not issue order “simply because it seems to be a good idea or because it will not cause the defendant any real inconvenience”). The plaintiff is still permitted to call the defendant as a witness even though the defendant is able to assert the privilege against self-incrimination. S.T. v. E.M., 80 Mass. App. Ct. 423, 429 (2011).
Totality of the Circumstances. “In evaluating whether a plaintiff has met her burden, a judge must consider the totality of the circumstances of the parties’ relationship.” Constance C. v. Raymond R., 101 Mass. App. Ct. 390, 394 (2022), quoting Iamele v. Asselin, 444 Mass. 734, 739 (2005). “[I]n evaluating whether an initial [G. L. c.] 209A order or its extension should issue, the judge must examine the words and conduct in the context of the entire history of the parties’ hostile relationship.” Noelle N. v. Frasier F., 97 Mass. App. Ct. 660, 665 (2020).
Child Custody Disputes. In evaluating whether the burden has been met,
“[t]he judge may consider such factors as . . . ‘ongoing child custody or other litigation that engenders or is likely to engender hostility, the parties’ demeanor in court, the likelihood that the parties will encounter one another in the course of their usual activities (e.g., residential or workplace proximity, attendance at the same place of worship), and significant changes in the circumstances of the parties.’”
Yasmin Y. v. Queshon Q., 101 Mass. App. Ct. 252, 258 (2022), quoting Iamele, 444 Mass. at 740.
Past Protective Orders. “The judge may consider . . . ‘the defendant’s violations of protective orders.’” Yasmin Y., 101 Mass. App. Ct. at 258, quoting Iamele, 444 Mass. at 740.
Threat of Suicide. See Constance C. v. Raymond R., 101 Mass. App. Ct. 390, 396 (2022) (defendant’s suicide threat proper factor to consider in determining whether plaintiff’s fear of imminent physical violence was objectively reasonable).
Voluminous Communications. See A.S.R. v. A.K.A., 92 Mass. App. Ct. 270, 279 (2017) (in context of Chapter 258E order based on acts amounting to crime of criminal harassment, G. L. c. 265, § 43A, see G. L. c. 258E, § 1[ii][B] [definition of “harassment”], “a reasonable person would have been warranted in fearing for his physical safety” based on defendant’s hundreds of e-mails, texts, and voice messages threatening to kill herself combined with unexpected in person appearances).
Hearsay, Authentication, and Best Evidence. “The common law rules of evidence, e.g., those regarding hearsay, authentication, and best evidence, should be applied with flexibility, subject to considerations of fundamental fairness.” Noelle N. v. Frasier F., 97 Mass. App. Ct. 660, 662 (2020). “[D]ue process requires that [hearsay] statements be considered for their truth only if the judge determines that they carry sufficient indicia of reliability.” F.A.P. v. J.E.S., 87 Mass. App. Ct. 595, 602 (2015).
In-Court Identification. See A.P. v. M.T., 92 Mass. App. Ct. 156, 168 (2017) (court properly allowed mother’s in-court identification of defendant and other boy where mother testified that she knew both boys because defendant lived next door and they had both visited her home in the past).
Digital Evidence. Circumstantial proof may be sufficient to prove that someone sent harassing messages, but authentication of authorship must be proven in Chapter 258E and Chapter 209A proceedings. See R.S. v. A.P.B., 95 Mass. App. Ct. 372, 376–377 (2019) (fake account messages are akin to anonymous letters—to determine whether there is sufficient evidence that fake accounts were created by defendant, court looks to appearance, content, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics of messages). Cross-Reference: Section 901, Authenticating or Identifying Evidence; Section 1119, Digital Evidence.
Mutual Orders. “A court may issue a mutual restraining order or mutual no-contact order pursuant to any abuse prevention action only if the court has made specific written findings of fact. The court shall then provide a detailed order, sufficiently specific to apprise any law officer as to which party has violated the order, if the parties are in or appear to be in violation of the order.” Nelson N. v. Patsy P., 98 Mass. App. Ct. 78, 81 (2020), quoting G. L. c. 209A, § 3.
No Right to Counsel. Defendants in Chapter 209A and Chapter 258E civil proceedings to do not have a constitutional right to counsel. Commonwealth v. Dufresne, 489 Mass. 195, 205 (2022).
Section 1107. Inadequate police investigation evidence
(a) Admissibility. Evidence that certain tests were not conducted, that certain police procedures were not followed, or that certain information known to the police about another suspect was not investigated, in circumstances in which it was reasonable to expect that the police should have conducted such tests, followed such procedures, or investigated such information, is admissible.
(b) Jury Instruction. If evidence under Subsection (a) is admitted, the judge may give a specific instruction to the jury regarding the permissible inference that may be drawn from the evidence. Even in the absence of an instruction, counsel may argue the issue, provided the argument is based on the evidence in the record and any permissible inferences that may be drawn from that evidence.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Bowden, 379 Mass. 472, 486 (1980). Evidence concerning the inadequacy of a police investigation is known as “Bowden evidence,” and a defense based on the inadequacy of the investigation is known as a “Bowden defense.” A defendant may argue that deficiencies or omissions in the police investigation create a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. Commonwealth v. Moore, 480 Mass. 799, 808 (2018). Once determined to be relevant, Bowden evidence is admissible unless its probative value is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Id. at 809 n.9. See Commonwealth v. Mattei, 455 Mass. 840, 857–860 (2010) (judge erred in refusing to permit defendant, a convict on work release, to question police about their failure to investigate criminal records of other employees on duty at time of crime because evidence was “critical to the defendant’s core theory of misidentification”).
The Bowden defense is a “two-edged sword for the defendant,” because the introduction of Bowden evidence permits the Commonwealth in rebuttal to explain why police did not conduct the investigation suggested by the defense, Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782, 803 n.25 (2009), and “the more wide-ranging the defendant’s attack on the police investigation, the broader the Commonwealth’s response may be.” Commonwealth v. Avila, 454 Mass. 744, 754–756 & n.12 (2009). However, a broad Bowden defense does not render the trial “devoid of evidentiary constraint.” Id. at 756 n.12. The trial judge must be alert to “the potential that the rebuttal evidence may come close to or cross the line between a permissible account of the police investigators’ rationale for pursuing a certain suspect or investigatory direction, and an impermissible expression of opinion of the defendant’s guilt or implicit comment on a witness’s credibility.” Id. Compare Commonwealth v. Wiggins, 477 Mass. 732, 743–744 (2017) (testimony that evidence collected during defendants’ booking was removed from police custody by someone who was not a member of law enforcement was properly admitted to show why evidence was not available at trial where defendants “attacked the integrity and adequacy of the investigation throughout the trial”), with Commonwealth v. Trotto, 487 Mass. 708, 725–726, 732 (2021) (hearsay testimony to rebut Bowden defense improperly admitted where testimony introduced “at least one possibly relevant new fact” and could have affected jury’s assessment of a witness’s credibility but was not relevant to establish adequacy of investigation).
Comparison Between Bowden and Third-Party Culprit Evidence. The same evidence may be used to support a Bowden defense and a third-party culprit defense, but the defenses are legally and logically distinct. See Moore, 480 Mass. at 806; Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. at 802–803; Commonwealth v. Sin, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 172, 182–184 (2021). Third-party culprit evidence is used to suggest that “someone else committed the crime.” Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. at 801. Bowden evidence is used to suggest that “the evidence at trial may be inadequate or unreliable because the police failed to conduct the scientific tests or to pursue leads that a reasonable police investigation would have conducted or investigated, and these tests or investigation reasonably may have led to significant evidence of the defendant’s guilt or innocence.” Id. This information is not hearsay because it is not offered to show the truth of the matter asserted but simply to show that the information was provided to the police. Therefore, it does not have to meet the standard for hearsay evidence regarding a third-party culprit, particularly the requirement of substantial connecting links. Id. at 802–803. See Commonwealth v. Rosa-Roman, 485 Mass. 617, 639–640 (2020) (judge properly refused to permit hearsay to be introduced as part of third-party culprit defense but permitted same statements to be introduced as part of Bowden defense with limiting instruction that statements could not be considered for their truth); Commonwealth v. Reynolds, 429 Mass. 388, 391–392 (1999) (judge should have permitted defendant pursuing Bowden defense to question police detectives about tips received by confidential informants because defendant was not offering “the substance of the informants’ tips for the truth of the matter asserted,” but rather “the fact that the tips occurred and were not investigated”).
Third-party culprit evidence may be admitted regardless of whether the police knew of the third party, whereas Bowden evidence is relevant only if the police had learned of the information during the investigation and failed to reasonably act upon it. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. at 802–803. Accordingly, the judge must conduct a voir dire hearing to determine whether the Bowden evidence had been furnished to the police and, if so, whether the probative value of the Bowden evidence is substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice to the Commonwealth from diverting the jury’s attention to collateral matters. Moore, 480 Mass. at 809 n.9.
Unlike third-party culprit evidence, there is no constitutional right to present a Bowden defense, and the exclusion of such evidence is reviewable only as an abuse of discretion. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. at 804 n.26.
Cross-Reference: Section 1105, Third-Party Culprit Evidence.
Subsection (b). In closing argument, defense counsel is entitled to argue that the inadequacy of the police investigation creates reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt, provided that the evidence supports the argument. See Commonwealth v. Alvarez, 480 Mass. 299, 316 (2018); Commonwealth v. Bowden, 379 Mass. 472, 486 (1980). Even though “it might be[ ] preferable for the judge to inform the jurors that the evidence of police omissions could create a reasonable doubt,” Commonwealth v. Reid, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 537, 540–541 (1990), a judge is “never required” to give such an instruction. Commonwealth v. Williams, 439 Mass. 678, 687 (2003). Instead, the judge is simply required not to take the issue of the adequacy of the police investigation away from the jury. Commonwealth v. Wilkerson, 486 Mass. 159, 178 (2020).
The standard instruction that a jury should decide the case based solely on the evidence, when given as part of the final instructions and not during the Bowden argument by defense counsel or in response to a question from the jury, does not impermissibly limit the jury’s consideration of a Bowden defense. Alvarez, 480 Mass. at 317–318. If no specific Bowden instruction is given, it is “prudent” for the judge to omit from the final instructions the sentence, “You are not to engage in any guesswork about any unanswered questions that remain in your mind.” Id. at 318.
Section 1108. Access to third-party records prior to trial in criminal cases (Lampron-Dwyer Protocol)
(a) Filing and service of the motion
Whenever in a criminal case a party seeks to summons books, papers, documents, or other objects (records) from any nonparty individual or entity prior to trial, the party shall file a motion pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2), stating the name and address of the custodian of the records (record holder) and the name, if any, of the person who is the subject of the records (third-party subject), for example, a complainant, and describing, as precisely as possible, the records sought. The motion shall be accompanied by an affidavit as required by Mass. R. Crim. P. 13(a)(2) and Commonwealth v. Lampron, 441 Mass. 265 (2004) (Lampron).
The moving party shall serve the motion and affidavit on all parties.
The Commonwealth shall forward copies of the motion and affidavit to the record holder and (where applicable) to the third-party subject, and notify them of the date and place of the hearing on the motion. The Commonwealth shall also inform the record holder and third-party subject that (i) the Lampron hearing shall proceed even if either of them is absent; (ii) the hearing shall be the third-party subject’s only opportunity to address the court; (iii) any statutory privilege applicable to the records sought shall remain in effect unless and until the third-party subject affirmatively waives any such privilege, and that failure to attend the hearing shall not constitute a waiver of any such privilege; and (iv) a third-party subject who is the victim in the case shall have the opportunity to confer with the prosecutor prior to the hearing.
(b) The Lampron hearing and findings
A party moving to summons documents pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2) prior to trial must establish good cause by showing (i) that the documents are evidentiary and relevant; (ii) that they are not otherwise procurable reasonably in advance of trial by exercise of due diligence; (iii) that the party cannot properly prepare for trial without such production and inspection in advance of trial, and that the failure to obtain such inspection may tend unreasonably to delay the trial; and (iv) that the application is made in good faith and is not intended as a general fishing expedition.
At the Lampron hearing, the judge shall hear from all parties, the record holder, and the third-party subject, if present. The record holder and third-party subject shall be heard on whether the records sought are relevant or statutorily privileged.
Following the Lampron hearing, and in the absence of having reviewed the records, the judge shall make oral or written findings with respect to the records sought from each record holder indicating (i) that the party seeking the records has or has not satisfied the requirements of Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2), and (ii) that the records sought are or are not presumptively privileged. A judge’s determination that any records sought are presumptively privileged shall not be appealable as an interlocutory matter and shall carry no weight in any subsequent challenge that a record is in fact not privileged.
(c) Summons and notice to record holder
If all Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2) requirements have been met and there has been a finding that the records sought are not presumptively privileged or the third-party subject has waived all applicable statutory privileges, the judge shall order a summons to issue directing the record holder to produce all responsive records to the applicable clerk of the court on the return date stated in the summons. The clerk shall maintain the records in a location separate from the court file, and the records shall be made available for inspection by counsel, as provided in Subsection (d)(1) below. The records shall not be made available for public inspection unless and until any record is filed in connection with a proceeding in the case or introduced in evidence at the trial.
Where a judge has determined that some or all of the requested records are presumptively privileged, the summons shall so inform the record holder and shall order the record holder to produce such records to the clerk of the court in a sealed envelope or box marked “PRIVILEGED,” with the name of the record holder, the case name and docket number, and the return date specified on the summons. The clerk shall maintain the records in a location separate from the court file, clearly designated “presumptively privileged records,” and the records shall not be available for inspection except by counsel as provided in Subsection (d)(2). The records shall not be made available for public inspection unless and until any record is introduced in evidence at trial.
(d) Inspection of records
(1) Nonpresumptively Privileged Records
The clerk of court shall permit counsel who obtained the summons to inspect and copy all records that are not presumptively privileged. When the defendant is the moving party, the Commonwealth’s ability to inspect or copy the records is within a judge’s discretion.
(2) Presumptively Privileged Records
(A) The clerk of court shall permit only defense counsel who obtained the summons to inspect the records, and only on counsel’s signing and filing a protective order in a form approved by the court. The protective order shall provide that any violation of its terms and conditions shall be reported to the Board of Bar Overseers by anyone aware of such violation.
(B) [The Supreme Judicial Court has not reached the issue of whether the procedures governing defense counsel’s review of presumptively privileged records also apply to the Commonwealth.]
(e) Challenge to privilege designation
If, on inspection of the records, defense counsel believes that any record or portion thereof is in fact not privileged, then in lieu of or in addition to a motion to disclose or introduce at trial (see Subsections (f) and (g) below), counsel may file a motion to release specified records or portions thereof from the terms of the protective order.
Defense counsel shall provide notice of the motion to all parties. Prior to the hearing, counsel for the Commonwealth shall be permitted to review such records in order to respond to the motion, subject to signing and filing a protective order as provided in Subsection (d)(2) above.
If a judge determines that any record or portion thereof is not privileged, the record shall be released from the terms of the protective order and may be inspected and copied as provided in Subsection (d)(1) above.
(f) Disclosure of presumptively privileged records
If defense counsel who obtained the summons believes that the copying or disclosure of some or all of any presumptively privileged record to other persons (for example, the defendant, an investigator, an expert) is necessary to prepare the case for trial, counsel shall file a motion to modify the protective order to permit copying or disclosure of particular records to specifically named individuals. The motion shall be accompanied by an affidavit explaining with specificity the reason why copying or disclosure is necessary; the motion and the affidavit shall not disclose the content of any presumptively privileged record. Counsel shall provide notice of the motion to all parties.
Following a hearing, and in camera inspection of the records by the judge where necessary, a judge may allow the motion only on making oral or written findings that the copying or disclosure is necessary for the defendant to prepare adequately for trial. The judge shall consider alternatives to full disclosure, including agreed to stipulations or disclosure of redacted portions of the records. Before disclosure is made to any person specifically authorized by the judge, that person shall sign a copy of the court order authorizing disclosure. This court order shall clearly state that a violation of its terms shall be punishable as criminal contempt.
All copies of any documents covered by a protective order shall be returned to the court on resolution of the case, i.e., on a change of plea or at the conclusion of any direct appeal following a trial or dismissal of the case.
(g) Use of presumptively privileged records at trial
A defendant seeking to introduce at trial some or all of any presumptively privileged record shall file a motion in limine at or before any final pretrial conference.
Counsel for the Commonwealth shall be permitted to review enough of the presumptively privileged records to be able to respond adequately to the motion in limine, subject to signing and filing a protective order as provided in Subsection (d)(2) above.
The judge may allow the motion only on making oral or written findings that introduction at trial of a presumptively privileged record is necessary for the moving defendant to obtain a fair trial. Before permitting the introduction in evidence of such records, the judge shall consider alternatives to introduction, including an agreed to stipulation or introduction of redacted portions of the record.
(h) Preservation of records for appeal
Records produced in response to a Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2) summons shall be retained by the clerk of court until the conclusion of any direct appeal following a trial or dismissal of a case.
Introduction. In criminal cases, pretrial discovery is limited to information and objects in the possession or control of the parties and is governed principally by Mass. R. Crim. P. 14. When a party seeks access in advance of trial to books, papers, documents, or objects (records, privileged or nonprivileged) that are in the hands of a third party, such requests are governed by Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2). Commonwealth v. Odgren, 455 Mass. 171, 186–187 (2009) (both prosecutor and defense counsel must follow the procedures contained in Mass. R. Crim. P. 17 and obtain prior judicial approval to obtain access before trial to any records in the hands of a third party, whether privileged or not). See Commonwealth v. Lampron, 441 Mass. 265, 268 (2004). See also Commonwealth v. Hart, 455 Mass. 230, 243 (2009) (Mass. R. Crim. P. 17[a] is the exclusive method to obtain records from a third party prior to trial); Commonwealth v. Hunt, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 494, 495 (2014) (affidavit accompanying motion for records must meet the specificity requirements of (Mass. R. Crim. P. 17[a]). When Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2) has been satisfied and a nonparty has produced records to the court, the protocol set forth in Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 448 Mass. 122, 139–147 (2006), governs review or disclosure of presumptively privileged records by defense counsel. To reference the forms promulgated by the Supreme Judicial Court, see http://perma.cc/45WM-J4NE.
At trial, a defendant seeking records must proceed under Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2). The Commonwealth may proceed under either Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2) or G. L. c. 277, § 68 . See Hart, 455 Mass. at 243 (a subpoena issued under G. L. c. 277, § 68, may only request a third party to produce records to a court on the day of the trial). Records held in the victim’s compensation file maintained by the attorney general, a third party, are accessible under Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2). Commonwealth v. Torres, 479 Mass. 641, 650–651 (2018).
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Lampron, 441 Mass. 265, 268 (2004). See also Commonwealth v. Odgren, 455 Mass. 171, 187 (2009) (Lampron procedures apply to both prosecution and defense).
Subsection (b). This subsection is derived generally from Commonwealth v. Lampron, 441 Mass. 265, 268 (2004), and Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 448 Mass. 122, 148 (2006). “The Commonwealth’s inability to locate either the record holder or the third-party subject shall not delay the Lampron hearing.” Id. at 148 n.2.
In Commonwealth v. Lampron, 441 Mass. 265 (2004), the Supreme Judicial Court followed Federal law as enunciated in United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 699–700 (1974), and held that a party moving to summons documents pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 17(a)(2) prior to trial must establish good cause by showing the following:
“(1) that the documents are evidentiary and relevant; (2) that they are not otherwise procurable reasonably in advance of trial by exercise of due diligence; (3) that the party cannot properly prepare for trial without such production and inspection in advance of trial and that the failure to obtain such inspection may tend unreasonably to delay the trial; and (4) that the application is made in good faith and is not intended as a general ‘fishing expedition.’”
Lampron, 441 Mass. at 269. Accord Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 444 Mass. 786, 792 (2005) (summarizing these requirements as “relevance, admissibility, necessity, and specificity”). See Commonwealth v. Jones, 478 Mass. 65, 68–72 (2017) (in sexual abuse prosecution, trial judge did not abuse discretion in refusing to issue summonses for privileged records where defendant’s showing of relevance was “too speculative”); Commonwealth v. Olivier, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 836, 844–846 (2016) (trial judge correctly denied motion for release of privileged records where defendant failed to present evidence of connection between diagnosis in records and victim’s actions); Commonwealth v. Rivera, 83 Mass. App. Ct. 581, 588–589 (2013) (judge properly denied defendant’s pretrial motion seeking access to complainant’s preabuse mental health records based only on belief that they might yield evidence concerning her credibility).
“Presumptively privileged records are those prepared in circumstances suggesting that some or all of the records sought are likely protected by a statutory privilege, for example, a record prepared by one who holds himself or herself out as a psychotherapist, see G. L. c. 233, § 20B; a social worker, see G. L. c. 112, § 135B; a sexual assault counsellor, see G. L. c. 233, § 20J; or a domestic violence victims’ counsellor, see G. L. c. 233, § 20K.”
Dwyer, 448 Mass. at 148. Because the judge will not have viewed any of the records sought by the defendant, “the judge shall make such determination based on the identity of the record holder or record preparer (if known) and any additional information adduced at the Lampron hearing. The defendant shall have the burden of showing that records are not presumptively privileged.” Id. at 148 n.3.
Subsection (c). This subsection is derived generally from Commonwealth v. Lampron, 441 Mass. 265 (2004), and Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 448 Mass. 122 (2006).
“Some records, although not presumptively privileged, may contain information of a personal or confidential nature, such as medical or school records. See, e.g., G. L. c. 71B, § 3 (special education records); G. L. c. 111, §§ 70, 70E (hospital records). The judge may, in his or her discretion, order such records produced subject to an appropriate protective order.” Dwyer, 448 Mass. at 149 n.5.
In rare cases, where treatment records ordered to be produced have been destroyed and there is no adequate substitute for them, the court has inherent remedial authority, independent of Mass. R. Crim. P. 17, the Lampron-Dwyer protocol, and Mass. R. Crim. P. 35, to order a limited deposition of the social worker with adequate protocols and safeguards to ensure that the deposition is confined to the parameters of the destroyed records. Matter of an Impounded Case, 491 Mass. 109, 118–121 (2022).
Subsection (d). This subsection is derived generally from Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 448 Mass. 122, 149 (2006). A judge may order that even nonpresumptively privileged records be subject to an appropriate protective order. Id. at 149 n.5 (Appendix).
“The Commonwealth may inspect or copy any records if prior consent is given by the record holder and third-party subject (where applicable).” Id. at 149 n.7. With respect to nonpresumptively privileged records, Subsection (d)(1), a party may have production obligations pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 14 or other pretrial agreements. See Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 444 Mass. 786, 800 (2005).
Subsection (e). This subsection is taken nearly verbatim from Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 448 Mass. 122, 149–150 (2006).
Subsection (f). This subsection is taken nearly verbatim from Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 448 Mass. 122, 150 (2006).
Subsection (g). This subsection is taken nearly verbatim from Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 448 Mass. 122, 150 (2006).
Subsection (h). This subsection is taken nearly verbatim from Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 448 Mass. 122, 150 (2006).
Section 1109. View
(1) Upon motion in civil and criminal cases, the court has discretion to allow the jury, accompanied by the judge, or, in a matter tried without a jury, the judge to take a view of the premises or place in question or any property matter or thing relative to the case.
(2) In a limited class of civil cases, a party has the right, upon request, to a view.
Counsel may point out the essential features of the place or thing that is the subject of the view, but no comment or discussion is permitted. No witnesses are heard. Jurors are not permitted to ask questions. The presence of the defendant in a criminal case is left to the judge’s discretion.
Observations made by the jury or by the judge on a view may be used by the finder of fact in making a decision.
In a civil case, the expenses of taking a view shall be paid by the party who makes the motion or in accordance with an agreement between or among some or all of the parties, and may be taxed as costs if the party or parties who advanced them prevails. In a criminal case, the expenses of taking a view shall be paid by the Commonwealth.
Subsection (a)(1). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Gedzium, 259 Mass. 453, 462 (1927); Madden v. Boston Elevated Ry. Co., 284 Mass. 490, 493–494 (1933); Commonwealth v. Gomes, 459 Mass. 194, 201–202 (2011); and G. L. c. 234, § 35. In the administrative context, the judge or fact finder also may have the right to conduct a view. See, e.g., G. L. c. 152, § 2 (Authority of the Division of Industrial Accidents to “make all necessary inspections and investigations relating to causes of injuries for which compensation may be claimed . . . .”).
The court has the discretion to take a view any time after the jury is sworn. See Yore v. City of Newton, 194 Mass. 250, 253 (1907) (court permitted jury to take a view after deliberations had begun).
The court may exercise its discretion to deny a motion for a view when visiting a particular location would not fairly represent the way it appeared or the conditions that existed at the time of the events that are the subject of the trial. See Commonwealth v. Cataldo, 423 Mass. 318, 327 n.8 (1996). However, even though the appearance of premises or a thing has changed, if the premises or thing in its altered condition would be helpful to the jury in understanding the evidence the court has discretion to permit a view. See Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 401–402 (1944) (there was no error in permitting the jury to take a view of a nightclub after a fire had severely damaged it and caused the death of numerous persons who were trapped inside). The court may deny a motion for a view because it will not contribute to the jury’s understanding of the evidence at trial. See Commonwealth v. Cambell, 378 Mass. 680, 704–705, cert. denied, 488 U.S. 847 (1979).
Subsection (a)(2). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 80, § 9 (betterment assessments); G. L. c. 79, § 22 (eminent domain); and G. L. c. 253, § 7 (mill flowage).
Subsection (b). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Dascalakis, 246 Mass. 12, 29–30 (1923). “Generally, an impropriety occurring on a view may be cured by cautionary instructions.” Commonwealth v. Cresta, 3 Mass. App. Ct. 560, 562 (1975), citing Commonwealth v. Madeiros, 255 Mass. 304, 313 (1926).
The defendant has no right to be present at a view; the judge has discretion to impose reasonable restrictions on the defendant’s presence and conduct. Commonwealth v. Corliss, 470 Mass. 443, 448 (2015). “A defendant is not entitled of right to confer with his counsel during a view.” Commonwealth v. Gagliardi, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 225, 237 (1990).
Subsection (c). The chief purpose of a view is to enable the jury to better understand the testimony. Commonwealth v. Curry, 368 Mass. 195, 197–198 (1975). Although a view is not evidence in a strict and technical sense, the trier of fact may consider what is seen on a view in reaching a verdict. Id.; Berlandi v. Commonwealth, 314 Mass. 424, 451 (1943). See also Commonwealth v. Perryman, 55 Mass. App. Ct. 187, 193 n.1 (2002) (a view is analogous to a courtroom demonstration or the use of a chalk). When a judge is the trier of fact, the judge may consider a view in making findings of fact. Talmo v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Framingham, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 626, 629 n.5 (2018).
Subsection (d). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 234, § 35.
Section 1110. Consciousness of guilt or liability
(a) Criminal cases
In a criminal case, the Commonwealth may offer evidence of a defendant’s conduct that occurred subsequent to the commission of the crime if
(1) the evidence reflects a state of consciousness of guilt;
(2) the evidence supports the inference that the defendant committed the act charged;
(3) the evidence is, with other evidence, together with reasonable inferences, sufficient to prove guilt; and
(4) the inflammatory nature of the conduct does not substantially outweigh its probative value.
Evidence of consciousness of guilt alone is not sufficient to support a verdict or finding of guilt. The judge should instruct the jury accordingly.
(b) Civil cases
Subject to Sections 407–411, in a civil case, a party may offer evidence of another party’s conduct that occurred subsequent to the commission of the alleged act or acts that give rise to the cause of action if the evidence
(1) reflects a state of consciousness of liability of that party;
(2) supports the inference that the party against whom the evidence is offered is liable; and
(3) is, with other evidence, together with reasonable inferences, sufficient to prove liability.
Evidence of consciousness of liability alone cannot sustain the burden to establish liability. The judge should instruct the jury accordingly.
The party against whom the evidence is offered has the right to offer evidence explaining the reason or reasons for the conduct to negate any adverse inference.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Vick, 454 Mass. 418, 423 (2009), and Commonwealth v. Toney, 385 Mass. 575, 584–585 & n.4 (1982). Where self-defense is an issue and the defendant objects to an instruction on consciousness of guilt, the trial judge should first consider whether to instruct on flight as evidence of consciousness of guilt. If the instruction is given, the judge should focus first on possible innocent reasons for flight, and that the conduct does not necessarily reflect feelings of guilt, but may be consistent with self-defense. Commonwealth v. Morris, 465 Mass. 733, 738–739 (2013). The Commonwealth may properly argue consciousness of guilt even if a jury instruction is not requested or not given. Commonwealth v. Franklin, 465 Mass. 895, 915 (2013). Compare Section 1111, Missing Witness.
Illustrations. The following evidence may be offered to show consciousness of guilt:
- flight itself, regardless of whether the police were actively searching for the defendant, Commonwealth v. Figueroa, 451 Mass. 566, 579 (2008);
- flight, even if there could have been another possible explanation for the flight, such as the defendant’s immigration status, Commonwealth v. Diaz, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 588, 596–598 (2022); attempted escape while awaiting trial, Commonwealth v. Fritz, 472 Mass. 341, 350 (2015);
- flight after discovery by a defendant who has learned of an impending arrest or criminal charge, Commonwealth v. Jackson, 391 Mass. 749, 758 (1984);an intentionally false statement made to police or another person before or after arrest, Commonwealth v. Martinez, 476 Mass. 186, 197 (2017);
- equivocal responses to questioning concerning allegations of rape and an admission that defendant was not initially honest, Commonwealth v. Hoime, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 266, 277–279 (2021);
- use of a false name to conceal identity, Vick, 454 Mass. at 424; Commonwealth v. Carrion, 407 Mass. 263, 276 (1990);
- intentional attempts to intimidate, coerce, threaten, or bribe a witness, Vick, 454 Mass. at 423; Toney, 385 Mass. 575, 584 n.4 (1982);
- alteration of a defendant’s appearance after a crime to conceal physical characteristics, Carrion, 407 Mass. at 277; or
- an intentional attempt to conceal, destroy, or falsify evidence, Commonwealth v. Stuckich, 450 Mass. 449, 453 (2008).
The following evidence should not be admitted to show consciousness of guilt:
- flight, where the issue is misidentification and there is no dispute that the person who fled the scene committed the offense, Commonwealth v. Bastaldo, 472 Mass. 16, 33–36 (2015); cf. Commonwealth v. Lopez, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 642, 647 (2015) (flight may be admitted as evidence of consciousness of guilt even when identification is an issue so long as it is not certain person fleeing committed the crime);
- evidence that the defendant lied during trial testimony, Commonwealth v. Edgerly, 390 Mass. 103, 110 (1983) (disfavoring such evidence; “[c]omment to a jury on the consequences of a criminal defendant’s lying in the course of his testimony must be made with care, and customarily should be avoided because it places undue emphasis on only one aspect of the evidence”);
- a defendant’s failure to appear at trial, except where the Commonwealth can show the defendant had knowledge of the scheduled date, Commonwealth v. Hightower, 400 Mass. 267, 269 (1987); Commonwealth v. Addy, 79 Mass. App. Ct. 835, 841 (2011); see also Commonwealth v. Zammuto, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 80, 82–83 (2016); cf. Commonwealth v. Muckle, 59 Mass. App. Ct. 631, 639–640 (2003) (where defendant is defaulted midtrial, judge should conduct voir dire to determine if Commonwealth can show requisite foundation); or
- the denial or failure to deny guilt during a police interrogation, Commonwealth v. Diaz, 453 Mass. 266, 273–274 (2009); Commonwealth v. Haas, 373 Mass. 545, 558–562 (1977).
In a charge of murder, consciousness of guilt “is rarely relevant to the issue of premeditation,” Commonwealth v. Dagenais, 437 Mass. 832, 843–844 (2002), and it should not be used as proof that a homicide was murder rather than manslaughter. See Commonwealth v. Clemente, 452 Mass. 295, 334 (2008); Commonwealth v. Lowe, 391 Mass. 97, 108 n.6, cert. denied, 469 U.S. 840(1984); Commonwealth v. Niland, 45 Mass. App. Ct. 526, 529 (1998). However, in a homicide case, consciousness-of-guilt evidence may be “relevant to an assessment of the defendant’s mental state and whether he was criminally responsible.” Commonwealth v. Chappell, 473 Mass. 191, 207 (2015).
Jury Instruction on Evidence of Consciousness of Guilt. If evidence of consciousness of guilt is admitted, the court should instruct the jury (1) that they are not to convict the defendant on the basis of the offered evidence alone, and (2) that they may, but need not, consider such evidence as one of the factors tending to prove the guilt of the defendant. Upon request, the jury must be further instructed (1) that the conduct does not necessarily reflect feelings of guilt, since there are numerous reasons why an innocent person might engage in the conduct alleged, and (2) that even if the conduct demonstrates feelings of guilt, it does not necessarily mean that the defendant is guilty in fact, because guilty feelings are sometimes present in innocent people. See Commonwealth v. Toney, 385 Mass. 575, 584–585 (1982); Commonwealth v. Estrada, 25 Mass. App. Ct. 907, 908 (1987). See also Commonwealth v. Vick, 454 Mass. 418, 424 (2009).
Evidence of Consciousness of Innocence. “Consciousness of innocence is a subject properly left to the give and take of argument, without jury instructions.” Commonwealth v. Lam, 420 Mass. 615, 619–620 (1995). In some instances, however, such evidence is not admissible. See Commonwealth v. Cassidy, 470 Mass. 201, 218–219 (2014) (judge properly excluded evidence of a telephone call and note to explain reason for fleeing); Commonwealth v. Martinez, 437 Mass. 84, 88 (2002) (offer to submit to polygraph inadmissible). But see Commonwealth v. Gamboa, 490 Mass. 294, 301–303 (2022) (while references to polygraphs are generally inadmissible, evidence that witness was willing to submit to polygraph admissible to rebut defense claim that police interview conditions were coercive).
Cross-Reference: Section 410, Inadmissibility of Pleas, Offers of Pleas, and Related Statements; Section 1102, Spoliation or Destruction of Evidence.
Subsection (b). This subsection is derived from Sheehan v. Goriansky, 317 Mass. 10, 16–17 (1944), and City of Boston v. Santosuosso, 307 Mass. 302, 349 (1940). Evidence of consciousness of liability alone cannot sustain the burden to establish liability. Olofson v. Kilgallon, 362 Mass. 803, 806 (1973); Miles v. Caples, 362 Mass. 107, 114 (1972).
Illustrations. The following evidence may be offered to show consciousness of liability:
- providing false or inconsistent statements, McNamara v. Honeyman, 406 Mass. 43, 54 n.10 (1989);
- leaving the scene of an accident without providing identification, Olofson, 362 Mass. at 806;
- providing a false name or statement to police, Parsons v. Ryan, 340 Mass. 245, 248 (1960);
- providing intentionally false testimony, Sheehan, 317 Mass. at 16–17;
- transferring property immediately prior to the beginning of litigation, Credit Serv. Corp. v. Barker, 308 Mass. 476, 481 (1941);
- suborning a witness to provide false testimony, bribing a juror, or suppressing evidence, Bennett v. Susser, 191 Mass. 329, 331 (1906); or
- destroying potential evidence, Gath v. M/A-Com, Inc., 440 Mass. 482, 489–491 (2003).
Cross-Reference: Section 407, Subsequent Remedial Measures; Section 408, Compromise Offers and Negotiations in Civil Case; Section 409, Expressions of Sympathy in Civil Cases; Offers to Pay Medical and Similar Expenses; Section 410, Pleas, Offers of Pleas, and Related Statements; Section 411, Insurance; Section 1102, Spoliation or Destruction of Evidence.
Jury Instruction on Evidence of Consciousness of Liability. Upon request, the judge should instruct the jury that they may, but are not required to, draw an inference; that any such inference must be reasonable in light of all the circumstances; that the weight of the evidence is for the jury to decide; that there may be innocent explanations for the conduct; and that the conduct does not necessarily reflect feelings of liability or responsibility. See Commonwealth v. Toney, 385 Mass. 575, 584–585 (1982) (it was for jury to decide which explanation for defendant’s departure from scene was most credible). See also Sheehan, 317 Mass. 10 at 16–17 (whether evidence of defendant’s conduct indicated consciousness of liability was for jury to decide); Hall v. Shain, 291 Mass. 506, 512 (1935) (jury to decide whether driver’s failure to contact police after accident was because of consciousness of liability).
Subsection (c). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Chase, 26 Mass. App. Ct. 578, 580–581 (1988), and Commonwealth v. Kerrigan, 345 Mass. 508, 513 (1963).
Section 1111. Missing witness
(a) Argument by counsel
Counsel is not permitted to make a missing-witness argument without first obtaining judicial approval; if approval is granted, the court must give a missing witness instruction.
(b) Jury instruction
The court may instruct the jury that an adverse inference may be drawn from a party’s failure to call a witness when
(1) the witness is shown to be available;
(2) the witness is friendly, or at least not hostile, to the party;
(3) the witness is expected to give noncumulative testimony of distinct importance to the case; and
(4) there is no logical or tactical explanation for the failure to call the witness.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Pena, 455 Mass. 1, 16–17 (2009); Commonwealth v. Saletino, 449 Mass. 657, 670 (2007); and Commonwealth v. Ortiz, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 468, 471 (2004). See Hoffman v. Houghton Chem. Corp., 434 Mass. 624, 640 (2001) (same principles apply in civil cases). The missing witness argument and the missing witness instruction are interrelated. The preferred practice is for counsel and the court to discuss the matter of a missing witness argument before the closing arguments. See Commonwealth v. Williams, 450 Mass. 894, 907 (2008). If the trial judge decides not to give the instruction, counsel is not permitted to make the argument. Saletino, 449 Mass. at 670–672.
In Commonwealth v. Saletino, 449 Mass. 657 (2007), the Supreme Judicial Court explained the critical distinction between argument by counsel that the evidence is insufficient, and the missing witness argument:
“A defendant has wide latitude in every case to argue that the Commonwealth has failed to present sufficient evidence and, in this sense, that there is an ‘absence’ of proof or that evidence is ‘missing.’ That is distinctly different from a missing witness argument, however. In the former, the defendant argues that the evidence that has been produced is inadequate; the defendant may even legitimately point out that a specific witness or specific evidence has not been produced; but the defendant does not argue or ask the jury to draw any conclusions as to the substance of the evidence that has not been produced. In the latter, the defendant points an accusatory finger at the Commonwealth for not producing the missing witness and urges the jury to conclude affirmatively that the missing evidence would have been unfavorable to the Commonwealth. That is the essence of the adverse inference.”
Id. at 672. Accord Pena, 455 Mass. at 17; Sullivan v. Connolly, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 56, 57–58 (2017).
Subsection (b). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Saletino, 449 Mass. 657, 668 (2007), and Commonwealth v. Anderson, 411 Mass. 279, 280 n.1 (1991). See also Commonwealth v. Franklin, 366 Mass. 284, 292–295 (1974). The instruction permits the jury, “if they think reasonable in the circumstances, [to] infer that the person, had he been called, would have given testimony unfavorable to the party.” Id.
Whether to allow argument and give a missing witness instruction is within the discretion of the trial judge, even when the foundation requirements are met. Commonwealth v. Thomas, 429 Mass. 146, 151 (1999). It is a highly fact-specific decision, and it cannot be insisted on as a matter of right. Id. “Because the inference, when it is made, can have a seriously adverse effect on the noncalling party—suggesting, as it does, that the party has willfully attempted to withhold or conceal significant evidence—it should be invited only in clear cases, and with caution.” Commonwealth v. Williams, 450 Mass. 894, 900–901 (2008), quoting Commonwealth v. Schatvet, 23 Mass. App. Ct. 130, 134 (1986). If the instruction is given, the court must take care not to negate its effect by instructing the jury not to consider anything beyond the evidence actually introduced at trial. See Commonwealth v. Remedor, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 694, 701 (2001).
Foundation for the Instruction. In Commonwealth v. Broomhead, 67 Mass. App. Ct. 547 (2006), the court stated as follows:
“In order to determine whether there has been a sufficient foundation for a missing witness instruction, we look at (1) whether the case against the defendant is [so strong that,] faced with the evidence, the defendant would be likely to call the missing witness if innocent; (2) whether the evidence to be given by the missing witness is important, central to the case, or just collateral or cumulative; (3) whether the party who fails to call the witness has superior knowledge of the whereabouts of the witness; and (4) whether the party has a ‘plausible reason’ for not producing the witness.”
Id. at 552, quoting Commonwealth v. Alves, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 796, 802 (2001). Even where the foundational requirements are met, the judge has discretion to decline to give the instruction and refuse to permit the argument if the judge finds that an adverse inference is not warranted. Commonwealth v. Pena, 455 Mass. 1, 17 n.15 (2009).
Is the “Missing Witness” Available? Availability is “the likelihood that the party against whom the inference is to be drawn would be able to procure the missing witness’[s] physical presence in court.” Commonwealth v. Happnie, 3 Mass. App. Ct. 193, 197 (1975). Availability does not necessarily require proof of “actual physical whereabouts,” but the court will look at whether the party made reasonable efforts to produce the witness under the circumstances. Commonwealth v. Luna, 46 Mass. App. Ct. 90, 95–96 nn.3 & 6 (1998). Compare Commonwealth v. Smith, 49 Mass. App. Ct. 827, 830–831 (2000) (basis to conclude that witnesses lived in area and no showing of impediment to obtaining their testimony), with Commonwealth v. Ortiz, 67 Mass. App. Ct. 349, 350 (2006) (defendant not entitled to missing witness instruction where he failed to show that prosecutor had knowledge of witness’s whereabouts).
A missing witness instruction is not warranted where a witness is equally available to both sides. Commonwealth v. Cobb, 397 Mass. 105, 108 (1986). For example, in Commonwealth v. Hoilett, 430 Mass. 369, 376 (1999), the court ruled the instruction was not warranted because both sides had the same contact information for a witness who was not aligned with either side. The instruction may properly be given where the missing witness is more friendly to one side than the other, even if the witness was available to the party requesting the instruction. See Commonwealth v. Thomas, 429 Mass. 146, 151–152 (1999). See also Hoffman v. Houghton Chem. Corp., 434 Mass. 624, 641 (2001) (defendant corporation’s vice president not absent where plaintiff could have subpoenaed him to testify).
Is the “Missing Witness” Friendly, or At Least Not Hostile, to the Party? “The jury should ordinarily be instructed not to draw inferences from the neglect of a defendant to call witnesses, unless it appears to be within his power to call others than himself, and unless the evidence against him is so strong that, if innocent, he would be expected to call them.” Commonwealth v. Finnerty, 148 Mass. 162, 167 (1889). See Commonwealth v. Rollins, 441 Mass. 114, 118–119 (2004); Thomas, 429 Mass. at 152. See also Grady v. Collins Transp. Co., 341 Mass. 502, 509 (1960) (“The plaintiff’s testimony was uncorroborated and was opposed by that of three witnesses, which, if accepted, showed his admitted fault to be the cause of the accident. The names of the plaintiff’s companions had been given to his counsel. There was very substantial likelihood that, notwithstanding the nine year interval, one or more of them lived in Worcester or near by [sic].”).
Would the “Missing Witness” Give Noncumulative Testimony of Importance? A missing witness instruction is warranted where the witness would be expected to give testimony “of distinct importance to the case.” Commonwealth v. Schatvet, 23 Mass. App. Ct. 130, 134 (1986). In determining the potential importance of the missing witness’s testimony, the court may consider whether the case against the party is so strong that the party would be likely to call the missing witness to rebut it. Commonwealth v. Broomhead, 67 Mass. App. Ct. 547, 552 (2006). See Rollins, 441 Mass. at 119 (proper to give missing witness instruction where defendant failed to call “good friend” who was with him at time of his arrest for OUI); Commonwealth v. Caldwell, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 570, 581–582 (1994) (defendant failed to call as alibi witness a cousin who supposedly let him into apartment at time of charged attack). Compare Commonwealth v. Graves, 35 Mass. App. Ct. 76, 81 (1993) (failure to call alibi witness who was “central” to defense), with Commonwealth v. Thomas, 439 Mass. 362, 370 (2003) (absent witness’s testimony would have been “merely corroborative”).
Is There an Explanation for Failure to Call a “Missing Witness”? “If the circumstances, considered by ordinary logic and experience, suggest a plausible reason for nonproduction of the witness, the jury should not be advised of the inference.” Commonwealth v. Anderson, 411 Mass. 279, 282–283 (1991). Thus, it is not error to refuse the instruction where it appears the witness may have been withheld because of a prior criminal record. Commonwealth v. Saletino, 449 Mass. 657, 668–669 (2007). See Commonwealth v. Figueroa, 413 Mass. 193, 197 (1992) (witnesses of limited mental capacity); Commonwealth v. Ortiz, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 468, 472–473 (2004) (defense counsel believed, albeit mistakenly, that witness had been subpoenaed and had failed to appear such that further efforts to compel his presence would be futile); Commonwealth v. Gagliardi, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 225, 244 (1990) (witness was reluctant to testify because of fear of intimidation by persons related to defendant). Contrast Brownlie v. Kanzaki Specialty Papers, Inc., 44 Mass. App. Ct. 408, 420 (1998) (affidavit of company official stating only that “compelling business reasons” mandated his return to Japan did not provide judge with plausible explanation for his absence).
Criminal Cases. The judge must inform the jury in a criminal case that they may not draw an adverse inference from the defendant’s failure to call a witness unless and until they find beyond a reasonable doubt that the witness, if called, would have given testimony unfavorable to the defendant. Commonwealth v. Niziolek, 380 Mass. 513, 522 (1980). The inference may also be applied to a situation where evidence is “missing.” See Commonwealth v. Kee, 449 Mass. 550, 558 (2007).
Cross-Reference: Section 1102, Spoliation or Destruction of Evidence.
Section 1112. Eyewitness identification
(a) Sources of law
The admissibility of eyewitness identification evidence in the Commonwealth is governed by the United States Constitution, Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and common-law principles of fairness.
(1) Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
Under Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, an out-of-court identification resulting from an identification procedure arranged by the police may be admissible unless the defendant files a timely motion to suppress before trial and establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the identification procedure was so unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to irreparable mistaken identification as to deny the defendant due process of law.
(2) Common-law Principles of Fairness
Under common-law principles of fairness, an out-of-court identification, whether or not arranged by the police, may be excluded if the defendant files a timely motion to suppress before trial and establishes that the danger of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value of the identification. The judge must weigh the suggestiveness of the identification against the strength of its independent source to determine whether the identification is reliable.
(b) Out-of-court identifications, including showups and photographic arrays
(1) Identification Procedures
To satisfy the burden set forth in Subsection (a)(1), the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence (i) that the police lacked good reason to conduct the showup, or (ii) the police so needlessly added to the showup’s suggestiveness that the identification was conducive to irreparable mistaken identification. In determining whether the police had good reason to conduct a showup, a judge may consider (i) the nature of the crime and concerns for public safety, (ii) the need for efficient investigation in the aftermath of a crime, and (iii) the usefulness of prompt confirmation of the accuracy of information. Prior to a showup identification, the person conducting the procedure must instruct the witness as follows: “You are going to be asked to view a person; the alleged wrongdoer may or may not be the person you are about to view; it is just as important to clear an innocent person from suspicion as it is to identify the wrongdoer; regardless of whether you identify someone, we will continue to investigate; if you identify someone, I will ask you to state, in your own words, how certain you are.”
(B) Photographic Arrays
To determine whether the defendant has satisfied the burden set forth in Subsection (a)(1), the judge should consider the following:
(i) whether the police properly informed the person making the identification that (a) the wrongdoer may or may not be in the depicted photographs, (b) it is just as important to clear a person from suspicion as to identify a person as the wrongdoer, (c) the depicted individuals may not appear exactly as they did on the date of the incident because features such as weight and head and facial hair may change, and (d) the investigation will continue regardless of whether an identification is made;
(ii) whether the person making the identification was asked to state the degree of certainty was of any identification;
(iii) whether the array was composed of persons who possess reasonably similar features and characteristics; and
(iv) whether the array contained at least five fillers for every photograph of the suspect.
Persons arranging a lineup should take precautions against directing undue attention to any participant. A participant may be required to make changes in appearance to conform with the description of the alleged perpetrator. During a voice procedure, the witness should not view the participants while listening to the words spoken by them. The participants should not repeat the words heard by the witness at the scene.
(2) Subsequent Out-of-Court Identifications
When an out-of-court identification resulting from an identification procedure arranged by the police is suppressed, a subsequent out-of-court identification of the defendant by the same witness may be admissible only if the Commonwealth establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the subsequent identification has an independent source. In determining whether the Commonwealth has met its burden, the judge must consider
(A) the extent of the witness’s opportunity to observe the defendant at the time of the crime;
(B) prior errors, if any, (i) in description, (ii) in identifying another person, or (iii) in failing to identify the defendant;
(C) the receipt of other suggestions; and
(D) the lapse of time between the crime and the identification.
(3) Third-Party Testimony Regarding Out-of-Court Identifications
If a witness testifies at trial and is subject to cross-examination about having made an out-of-court statement of identification, a third party, including a police officer, may subsequently testify concerning the alleged statement, regardless of whether the witness admitted, denied, or claimed not to re-member making the statement. The third party’s testimony may be admitted for both substantive and impeachment purposes.
(c) In-court identifications
(1) When There Has Been an Out-of-Court Identification
(A) An in-court identification of the defendant by an eyewitness present during com-mission of the crime may be admissible if the eyewitness (i) participated before trial in an identification procedure and (ii) made an unequivocal positive identification of the defendant.
(B) If the out-of-court identification of the defendant was suppressed as unnecessarily suggestive, an in-court identification by the same witness is not admissible unless the Commonwealth establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the in-court identification has an independent source.
(C) If the out-of-court identification of the defendant was suppressed under common-law principles of fairness, an in-court identification by the same witness is inadmissible be-cause the Commonwealth cannot establish that it would be reliable.
(2) When There Has Not Been an Out-of-Court Identification
(A) If an eyewitness present during the commission of a crime did not participate before trial in an identification procedure, or did not make an unequivocal positive identification, an in-court identification by the same witness is inadmissible unless there is good reason for its admission.
(B) In cases subject to Subsection (c)(2)(A), the Commonwealth must move in limine to admit the in-court identification. Once the motion is filed, the defendant bears the burden of showing that the in-court identification would be unnecessarily suggestive and that there is no good reason for its admission.
(d) Expert testimony
Expert testimony on the issue of eyewitness identification is admissible at the discretion of the judge.
(e) Inanimate objects
The identification of an inanimate object is subject to common-law principles of fairness and may implicate due process principles.
(f) Composite drawings and sketches
Composite drawings and sketches may be admissible unless the defendant establishes a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification resulting from impermissible suggestiveness.
(g) Jury instructions
(1) Positive Eyewitness Identification
Where the jury heard eyewitness evidence that positively identified the defendant and the identification of the defendant as the person who committed or participated in the alleged crime is contested, the judge should give the Model Eyewitness Identification Instruction.
(2) Partial Eyewitness Identification
Upon request, where an eyewitness partially identified the defendant, the judge should give some variation of the Model Eyewitness Identification Instruction that includes information about the risk of an honest but mistaken observation.
(3) Cross-Racial Identification
The judge should omit the cross-racial component of the Model Eyewitness Identification Instruction only if all parties agree that there was no cross-racial identification. Where the instruction is given, the judge has discretion to add references to ethnicity.
(4) Failure to Identify or Inconsistent Identification
The judge should instruct the jury to consider whether a witness ever failed to identify the defendant or made an identification that was inconsistent with the identification that the witness made at the trial.
(5) Preliminary/Contemporaneous Instruction
Upon request, before opening statements or immediately before or after the testimony of an identifying witness, the judge must give the Preliminary/Contemporaneous Instruction.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Johnson, 473 Mass. 594, 597–598 (2016); Commonwealth v. Walker, 460 Mass. 590, 599 n.13 (2011); and Commonwealth v. Jones, 423 Mass. 99, 109–110 (1996). Because Massachusetts law is more favorable to the defendant than Federal law on the issue of the admissibility of eyewitness evidence, there generally is no need to separately consider Federal law. See Commonwealth v. Ploude, 101 Mass. App. Ct. 845, 853 (2022), quoting Johnson, 473 Mass. at 598 (unlike under Federal law, “the reliability of an identification made as a result of an unnecessarily suggestive law enforcement identification procedure ‘cannot save [its] admissibility’ under art. 12”). However, an in-court identification will be suppressed where either the physical presence of the witness in court or the witness’s basis of knowledge for the identification was procured in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Commonwealth v. Greenwood, 78 Mass. App. Ct. 611, 621 (2011).
Subsection (a)(2). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Johnson, 473 Mass. 594, 599–600, 603–604 (2016); Commonwealth v. Jones, 423 Mass. 99, 108–109 (1996); and Commonwealth v. Galipeau, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 225, 232 n.11 (2018). See also Commonwealth v. McEvoy, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 308, 321 (2018) (rejecting argument that probative value of out-of-court identification was substantially outweighed by danger of unfair prejudice). A challenge to the admissibility of an identification not involving the police must be advanced under common-law principles of fairness. Commonwealth v. Sylvia, 456 Mass. 182, 190 (2010). To trigger a reliability analysis, i.e., weighing the danger of unfair prejudice against the probative value of the identification, “the circumstances surrounding the identification need only be so suggestive that there is a substantial risk that they influenced the witness’s identification of the defendant, inflated his or her level of certainty in the identification, or altered his or her memory of the circumstances of the operative event.” Johnson, 473 Mass. at 604. As the Johnson court stated,
“[w]here the independent source of an identification is slim, this level of suggestiveness may be sufficient to support a finding of inadmissibility; where the independent source is substantial, a greater level of suggestiveness would be needed to support a finding that the danger of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value of the identification.”
Id. See Commonwealth v. Santiago, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 700, 707–709 (2022) (close relationship between victim and two witnesses who watched Facebook video of shooting together, absent evidence that they discussed defendant’s identify during or after viewing video, did not create highly suggestive circumstances warranting suppression of later identifications from photo arrays under common-law fairness principles).
Subsection (b)(1). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. German, 483 Mass. 553, 564 (2019) (showups); Commonwealth v. Johnson, 473 Mass. 594, 599 (2016); Commonwealth v. Crayton, 470 Mass. 228, 235–237 (2014); Commonwealth v. Walker, 460 Mass. 590, 600 (2011); Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782, 797–798 (2009) (photographic arrays); Commonwealth v. Cinelli, 389 Mass. 197, 207 (1983); Commonwealth v. Martin, 447 Mass. 274, 278–284 (2006); Commonwealth v. Marini, 375 Mass. 510, 517 (1978); and Commonwealth v. Rivera, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 796, 801 (2017). See also Commonwealth v. Vasquez, 482 Mass. 850, 858–859 (2019) (witness’s prior identification of defendant’s voice from audio track did not cause identification of defendant from surveillance video to be unnecessarily suggestive where police employed reasonable procedures to separate audio from video recordings).
If a showup identification is determined to be inadmissible because there was “no good reason” for the police to conduct the showup, the judge need not consider the procedure’s “actual suggestive impact on the witness.” Commonwealth v. Carlson, 92 Mass. App. Ct. 710, 714 (2018). If a showup identification is admitted, the defendant may argue at trial that an alternative identification procedure would have been fairer. Commonwealth v. Gonzalez, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 906, 908 (1989). Cf. Commonwealth v. Dougan, 377 Mass. 303, 317–318 (1977) (trial judge may grant request for an “in-court lineup” or “photographic spread” and may “seat [the defendant] among the spectators at trial” to increase reliability of in-court identification).
With respect to photographic arrays, although not required, a “double-blind procedure where the identification procedure is conducted by a law enforcement officer who does not know the identity of the suspect . . . is the better practice to eliminate the risk of conscious or unconscious suggestion.” Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. at 797. However, the absence of such a procedure goes to the weight, not admissibility, of the identification evidence. Id. Photographs used in a photographic array may be admitted if (1) the prosecution demonstrates some need for their introduction, (2) the photographs are offered in a form that does not imply a prior criminal record, and (3) the manner of their introduction does not call attention to their source. Commonwealth v. Cruz, 445 Mass. 589, 592 (2005). Generally, identification evidence resulting from a photographic array that distinguishes the defendant based on some physical characteristic from all other suspects is inadmissible. Nonetheless, such identification evidence has been admitted in two circumstances: (1) where the identification clearly was not made as a result of the distinctive feature, or (2) where the distinctive feature was not part of the original description of the suspect. See Commonwealth v. Ploude, 101 Mass. App. Ct. 845, 852 (2022) (identification of defendant from photographic array should have been suppressed where defendant was only suspect in array with a neck tattoo and identification did not fall into either permissible category). Although repeated arrays including a suspect’s photograph are discouraged, “[d]uplication of a defendant’s photograph in one or more arrays [is] not . . . sufficient by itself to compel the suppression of a resulting identification.” Commonwealth v. Wallace, 417 Mass. 126, 129 (1994). See Commonwealth v. Santiago, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 700, 705–706 (2022) (no error in admitting witness’s identification of defendant from second photo array where witness failed to identify defendant, who was only shirtless individual, in first array; police permitted to “refine the array” as new information is received, and second array was used to reduce suggestiveness).
Subsection (b)(2). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Johnson, 420 Mass. 458, 463–464 (1995). An out-of-court single photograph identification is the equivalent of a showup identification. The burden is on the defendant to prove that the use of a single photograph display is so unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to irreparable mistaken identification as to deny the defendant due process. Commonwealth v. Chin, 97 Mass. App. Ct. 188, 198 (2020).
Subsection (b)(3). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Herndon, 475 Mass. 324, 334 (2016); Commonwealth v. Adams, 458 Mass. 766, 770 (2011); Commonwealth v. Cong Duc Le, 444 Mass. 431, 441–442 (2005); and Commonwealth v. Raedy, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 440, 448–449 (2007). The third party’s testimony may include context for the statement of identification, but there are limits. See Commonwealth v. Walker, 460 Mass. 590, 608 (2011) (“statement regarding the number of shots fired, the color of the firearm, and the defendant’s behavior after the shooting goes beyond the context of the identification of the shooter”). See also Adams, 458 Mass. at 772 (“We emphasize that the rule [is] not intended to render a witness’s entire statement admissible, but only so much as comprises relevant evidence on the issue of identification. Judges have broad discretion in this area, and parties who intend to offer pretrial statements of identification are well advised to bring the matter to the attention of the trial judge at the earliest practicable time, preferably in a motion in limine.”). Under certain circumstances, the statement of identification need not have been “made from a photographic array, a showup, or other identification procedure.” Id. at 770–772.
Subsection (c)(1)(A). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Collins, 470 Mass. 255, 259–267 (2014). An unequivocal positive identification exists where the witness “identifies the defendant as the perpetrator, such that the statement of identification is clear and free from doubt.” Commonwealth v. Dew, 478 Mass. 304, 315 (2017). Where the witness previously failed to make a unequivocal positive identification and the prosecution seeks to admit an in-court identification by the same witness, the prosecution usually must show “that the in-court identification is more reliable than the witness’s earlier failure to make a positive identification and that it poses little risk of misidentification despite its suggestiveness.” Collins, 470 Mass. at 265. A witness’s initial failure to make an unequivocal positive identification from a photo array does not require exclusion of an in-court identification where the witness identified the defendant from a second array with certainty and testifies that initial reluctance to identify the defendant was based on fear of retaliation. Commonwealth v. Santiago, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 700, 709 (2022).
Subsection (c)(1)(B). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Johnson, 473 Mass. 594, 602 (2016) (“[T]he Commonwealth may offer a subsequent out-of-court or in-court identification by the witness if the Commonwealth proves by clear and convincing evidence that the subsequent identification is reliable because it rests on a source independent of the unnecessarily suggestive confrontation”). See Commonwealth v. Ploude, 101 Mass. App. Ct. 845, 855 n.5 (2022) (refusing to permit Commonwealth on remand to introduce new evidence regarding whether in-court identification rested on independent source).
Subsection (c)(1)(C). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Johnson, 473 Mass. 594, 603 (2016) (“[B]ecause a judge declares an out-of-court identification to be inadmissible under [common-law principles of fairness] only where it is unreliable, the Commonwealth cannot prevail in proving by clear and convincing evidence that the witness’s in-court identification would be reliable”).
Subsection (c)(2)(A). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Crayton, 470 Mass. 228, 233–245 (2014). The necessary “good reason” for not conducting an out-of-court identification procedure may exist in the following two circumstances: first, “where the eyewitness was familiar with the defendant before the commission of the crime, such as where a victim testifies to a crime of domestic violence,” and second, “where the witness is an arresting officer who was also an eyewitness to the commission of the crime, and the identification merely confirms that the defendant is the person who was arrested for the charged crime.” Crayton, 470 Mass. at 242. The reason is that, “[i]n both of these circumstances, the in-court showup is understood by the jury as confirmation that the defendant sitting in the court room is the person whose conduct is at issue rather than as identification evidence.” Id. Where the officer making the in-court identification participated in the investigation but not the arrest of the defendant, the “good reason” to admit the officer’s in-court identification does not exist. See Commonwealth v. Ortiz, 487 Mass. 602, 609–610 (2021).
Subsection (c)(2)(B). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Crayton, 470 Mass. 228, 243 (2014) (“[W]e place the burden on the prosecutor to move in limine to admit the in-court identification of the defendant by a witness where there has been no out-of-court identification. Once the motion is filed, the defendant would continue to bear the burden of showing that the in-court identification would be unnecessarily suggestive and that there is not ‘good reason’ for it.”). The motion in limine should filed before trial. Id. To meet this burden, the defendant is not required to “propos[e] alternative, less suggestive identification procedures.” Id. at 241.
Subsection (d). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Watson, 455 Mass. 246, 257 (2009); Commonwealth v. Bly, 448 Mass. 473, 495 (2007); and Commonwealth v. Hyatt, 419 Mass. 815, 818 (1995). Before allowing expert testimony, the judge must conclude that the subject of the testimony is one on which the jurors need assistance, that the jurors will not be confused or misled by the testimony, that the tests and circumstances on which the testimony rests provide a basis for determining it is reliable, and that the testimony is sufficiently tied to the facts of the case so that it will aid the jury. Commonwealth v. Santoli, 424 Mass. 837, 844 (1997). See also Commonwealth v. Snyder, 475 Mass. 445, 451 (2016) (“As has become increasingly clear, ‘common sense is not enough to accurately discern the reliable eyewitness identification from the unreliable.’ Expert testimony may be an important means of explaining counterintuitive principles regarding the reliability of eyewitness identifications, or of challenging such principles. Eyewitness identification expert testimony also may be an important means of explaining how other variables relevant in a particular case can affect the reliability of the identification at issue.” [Citations and footnote omitted.]); Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782, 799 (2009) (explaining that expert testimony allowed jury “reasonably to assess the weight of the eyewitness evidence”). There is no presumption that expert testimony on the inaccuracy of eyewitness identification should be admitted. Commonwealth v. Denson, 489 Mass. 138, 146 (2022).
Subsection (e). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Thomas, 476 Mass. 451, 466–467 (2017) (upholding exclusion of identification of firearm because identification was “unreliable” and “the witness’s confidence in the identification was inflated by the detectives’ confirmatory statements”). In Thomas, the court stated as follows:
“Due process may be denied by admitting in evidence an identification of an inanimate object where, first, the police knew or reasonably should have known that identification of the object effectively would identify the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime and where, second, the police needlessly and strongly suggested to the witness that the object was the object at issue.”
Id. The Supreme Judicial Court has urged police departments to devise a protocol for identification of inanimate objects and suggested elements for such a protocol. Id.
The identification of an object is not “subject to the same precautions given the identification of a person.” Commonwealth v. Browning, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 735, 744–745 (2021), quoting Commonwealth v. Simmons, 383 Mass. 46, 51 (1981). In Commonwealth v. Browning, a witness testified that she did not see the suspect’s face when she was robbed and thus was unable to pick him out of a photo array; however, during her initial description of the suspect, she described that he wore a multicolored shirt. The court found there was no error when the police showed the witness the shirt that the defendant was wearing at the time of the arrest and she was able to positively identify the shirt as what the suspect was wearing at the time of the robbery.
Subsection (f). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Weichell, 390 Mass. 62, 68–73 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1032 (1984).
Subsection (g). This subsection is derived from the Model Jury Instructions on Eyewitness Identification set forth at 473 Mass. 1051 (2015). The instructions include the Model Eyewitness Identification Instruction and the Preliminary/Contemporaneous Instruction. The Model Eyewitness Identification Instruction should be given “unless a judge determines that different language would more accurately or clearly provide comparable guidance to a jury or better promote the fairness of the trial.” Model Jury Instructions on Eyewitness Identification, 473 Mass. at 1051. For the entire statement of the justices, see https://perma.cc/KH5B-J9YQ.
Section 1113. Opening statement and closing argument; Applicable to criminal and civil cases
(a) Opening statement
The proper function of an opening statement is to outline in a general way the nature of the case that a party expects to be able to prove or support by admissible evidence. The expectation must be reasonable and grounded in good faith. Except for a prosecutor in a criminal case, a party may discuss evidence expected to be offered by an opponent. Argument for or against either party is not permitted.
(2) Directed Verdict, Finding of Not Guilty, or Mistrial
If the evidence outlined in an opening statement is plainly insufficient as a matter of law to sustain that party’s case, the court has discretion to direct a verdict against that party.
(b) Closing argument
(1) Critical Stage
Closing argument is not evidence but is a critical stage of a trial that requires advance preparation and knowledge of the principles expressed in this section.
(2) Permissible Argument
Closing argument must be based on the evidence and the fair inferences from the evidence. It may contain enthusiastic rhetoric, strong advocacy, and excusable hyperbole. It is permissible to argue from the evidence that a witness, document, or other evidence is or is not credible, as well as to suggest the conclusions, if any, that should be drawn from the evidence. A party may urge jurors to rely on common sense and life experience as long as the subject matter at issue does not require expert knowledge. In civil actions, parties, through their counsel, may suggest a specific monetary amount for damages at trial.
(3) Improper Argument
The following are not permissible in a closing argument:
(A) to misstate the evidence, to refer to facts not in evidence (including excluded matters), to use evidence for a purpose other than the limited purpose for which it was admitted, or to suggest inferences not fairly based on the evidence;
(B) to state a personal opinion about the credibility of a witness, the evidence, or the ultimate issue of guilt or liability;
(C) to appeal to the jurors’ emotions, passions, prejudices, or sympathies;
(D) to ask the jurors to put themselves in the position of any person involved in the case;
(E) to misstate principles of law, to make any statement that shifts the burden of proof, or to ask the finder of fact to infer guilt based on the defendant’s exercise of a constitutional right; and
(F) to ask the jury to disregard the court’s instructions.
(4) Motion for Mistrial at Closing Argument
In a criminal case, a trial judge may defer a defendant’s motion for a mistrial during closing argument until after the jury returns a verdict. In a civil case, however, a motion for a mistrial must be decided when made.
An objection to a statement in an opening or closing, to be timely, must be made no later than the conclusion of the opponent’s opening or closing. If counsel is dissatisfied with a judge’s curative or supplemental instruction, an additional objection must be made.
(d) Duty of the court
A trial judge has a duty to take appropriate action to prevent and remedy error in opening statements and closing arguments.
Subsection (a). An opening statement is generally limited to fifteen minutes. See Mass. R. Crim. P. 24(a)(2); Rule 7 of the Rules of the Superior Court. In a criminal case, the defendant may present an opening statement immediately after the plaintiff’s opening or may choose to defer opening until after the close of the plaintiff’s case. See Commonwealth v. Dupree, 16 Mass. App. Ct. 600, 603 (1983) (tactical considerations may affect decision whether to defer opening until after conclusion of Commonwealth’s case).
Subsection (a)(1). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Croken, 432 Mass. 266, 268 (2000); Commonwealth v. Fazio, 375 Mass. 451, 454(1978); and Posell v. Herscovitz, 237 Mass. 513, 514 (1921). There is no place for inflammatory rhetoric or appeals to juror sympathy in an opening statement. See Commonwealth v. Sun, 490 Mass. 196, 209–212 (2022); in an opening statement. See Commonwealth v. Siny Van Tran, 460 Mass. 535, 554 (2011). See Commonwealth v. Silva, 455 Mass. 503, 514 (2009) (“The prosecutor’s opening remark, describing the killing as cold blooded, was improper argument for an opening.”). But see Commonwealth v. Johnson, 429 Mass. 745, 748 (1999) (prosecutor’s remarks about presence of victim’s child and viciousness of crime not improper because relevant to whether defendant acted with extreme atrocity or cruelty). Simply because a statement made in a reasonable, good-faith belief that the evidence would materialize at trial turns out not to be true does not mean the statement constitutes error. See Fazio, 375 Mass. at 457. See Commonwealth v. Qualls, 440 Mass. 576, 586 (2003) (absent showing of bad faith or prejudice, that certain evidence cited in opening statement fails to materialize is not ground for reversal). But see Commonwealth v. Davis, 487 Mass. 448, 469 (2021) (unreasonable for Commonwealth to suggest that jury could identify defendant based on low-resolution video depicting individual’s skin color and common hairstyle but not facial features). Neither unreasonableness nor bad faith is to be presumed in an opening statement. Commonwealth v. Errington, 390 Mass. 875, 883 (1984). See Commonwealth v. Morgan, 449 Mass. 343, 361 (2007) (ruling that statements of coconspirator were inadmissible did not establish that prosecutor, who believed statements to be admissible and referred to them in opening, acted in bad faith).
“[A] judge, acting within his discretion, may limit the scope of the prosecutor’s and defense counsel’s opening statements to evidence counsel expects to introduce.” Commonwealth v. Truong, 34 Mass. App. Ct. 668, 671 (1993). Compare Commonwealth v. Medeiros, 15 Mass. App. Ct. 913, 913–914 (1983) (no abuse of discretion in refusing to permit opening statement when defense counsel “announced no more than a hope to puncture the Commonwealth’s case somehow through cross-examination”), with Commonwealth v. Dupree, 16 Mass. App. Ct. 600, 602–603 (1983) (“To deny the defendant the right to open at the commencement of the trial without inquiry into the [content] of the proposed statement was error. To attempt to evaluate the extent of the prejudice which ensued would be an exercise in speculation, and, therefore, we reverse.”). There may be special circumstances where a statement may be so “irretrievably and fatally prejudicial to the defendant” that a prosecutor should have “no doubt” as to its admissibility before including it in the opening. See Fazio, 375 Mass. at 455, quoting Bearse, 358 Mass. 481, 487 (1987). If there is a question as to the existence or admissibility of evidence, the matter may be brought to the judge by way of a motion in limine. See Commonwealth v. Spencer, 465 Mass. 32, 42 (2013). Cross-Reference: Section 103(f), Rulings on Evidence, Objections, and Offers of Proof: Motions in Limine .
Disciplinary Authority. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.4(e), 8.4(d) (2015); Admonition No. 0051, 16 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 528 (2000), at http://perma.cc/NB7Y-7BES (in opening statement, prosecutor described evidence that he was not in a position to produce).
Subsection (a)(2). This subsection is derived from Douglas v. Whittaker, 324 Mass. 398, 399 (1949), and Commonwealth v. Lowder, 432 Mass. 92, 102 (2000). The power to direct a verdict should be exercised with “great caution” because the outline of the evidence in the opening may not always fully describe the evidence at trial. Hubert v. Melrose-Wakefield Hosp. Ass'n, 40 Mass. App. Ct. 172, 176 (1996), quoting Upham v. Chateau de Ville Dinner Theatre, Inc., 380 Mass. 350, 351 n.2 (1980). Thus, in close cases, the judge should decline to direct a verdict. Douglas, 324 Mass. at 400. See also Island Transp. Co. v. Cavanaugh, 54 Mass. App. Ct. 650, 654 (2002) (preference for civil cases to be decided on “sworn evidence rather than an anticipatory statement of counsel” unless opening statement fails to describe elements of a cause of action). However, where the facts stated do not constitute a cause of action, a verdict is properly directed because “the court and jury’s time, the public purse, and the defendant’s time and purse ought not to be wasted.” Sereni v. Star Sportswear Mfg. Corp., 24 Mass. App. Ct. 428, 431 (1987). In a criminal case, the judge should not allow a motion for a required finding of not guilty after the opening unless the prosecutor is made aware of the problem and given an opportunity to correct it, and unless it is clear that the defendant cannot be lawfully convicted. Lowder, 432 Mass. at 100–101.
Cross-Reference: Section 611(f), Mode and Order of Examining Witnesses and Presenting Evidence: Reopening.
Subsection (b). A party is generally allowed thirty minutes for closing argument in a civil case. Mass. R. Civ. P. 51(a). “In a criminal case, “[t]he defendant shall present his closing argument first.” Mass. R. Crim. P. 24(a)(1). “A trial judge has broad discretion in limiting the time for closing argument.” Commonwealth v. Mahar, 6 Mass. App. Ct. 875, 875–876 (1978). See also Commonwealth v. Rocheteau, 74 Mass. App. Ct. 17, 22 (2009). “[J]udges who intend to enforce a time limit [on closing argument should] make clear to counsel before closing argument the limit to be imposed and the possibility that the judge will warn them of the time remaining.” Commonwealth v. Brown, 462 Mass. 620, 633 n.11 (2012).
The defendant in a criminal case has a right under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution to make a closing argument at trial. Commonwealth v. Marvin, 417 Mass. 291, 292 (1994). This right also applies in cases in which the defendant is self-represented. Herring v. New York, 422 U.S. 853, 864 n.18 (1975). See also Commonwealth v. Martelli, 38 Mass. App. Ct. 669, 669–672 (1995) (judge’s refusal to allow defense to present closing argument created substantial risk of miscarriage of justice and required reversal even absent objection).
Subsection (b)(1). This subsection is derived from Herring v. New York, 422 U.S. 853, 862 (1975), and Commonwealth v. Farley, 432 Mass. 153, 157 (2000).
Subsection (b)(2). The first sentence of this subsection is taken nearly verbatim from Commonwealth v. Pettie, 363 Mass. 836, 840 (1973), and Mason v. General Motors Corp., 397 Mass. 183, 192 (1986). The second sentence is derived from Commonwealth v. Costa, 414 Mass. 618, 629 (1993). The third sentence is derived from Commonwealth v. Kee, 449 Mass. 550, 560 (2007). See also Commonwealth v. Ferreira, 381 Mass. 306, 316 (1980) (“Counsel may also attempt to assist the jury in their task of analyzing, evaluating, and applying evidence. Such assistance includes suggestions by counsel as to what conclusion the jury should draw from the evidence.”); Commonwealth v. Haas, 373 Mass. 545, 557 n.11 (1977) (“Counsel may ‘fit all the pieces of evidence together so that they form a comprehensive and comprehensible picture for the jury.’”). The fourth sentence is derived from Commonwealth v. Oliveira, 431 Mass. 609, 613 (2000). The last sentence of this subsection is derived from G. L. c. 231, § 13B, and Mass. R. Civ. P. 51(a)(2), as appearing in 488 Mass. 1405 (2021).
Common Sense; Common Experience. Counsel may ask the jury to use their common sense and to apply their common experience to the evidence. See Commonwealth v. Jefferson, 461 Mass. 821, 836 (2012); Commonwealth v. Santiago, 425 Mass. 491, 498 (1997), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1003 (1998). Cf. Commonwealth v. Salazar, 481 Mass. 105, 116–117 (2018) (prosecutor’s suggestion that jurors should consult “moral compass” was troublesome and approached improper appeal to emotions); Commonwealth v. Hrabak, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 648, 654 (2003) (improper for prosecutor to urge jurors to infer from their own knowledge and experience that six-year-old child’s rectum could accommodate a penis without showing any injury, as this was beyond knowledge of ordinary layperson).
Credibility of Witnesses. Counsel may argue that a witness is mistaken or lying when the argument is expressed as a conclusion to be drawn from the evidence and not as a personal opinion. See Commonwealth v. Obershaw, 435 Mass. 794, 807 (2002) (permissible to argue that defendant was lying and that his account at trial strained credulity where there “was substantial evidence that the defendant had changed his story between his statements to the police and his testimony at trial”); Commonwealth v. Murchison, 418 Mass. 58, 60 (1994) (defense counsel entitled to argue from evidence that police officers had lied). “Where credibility is at issue, it is certainly proper for counsel to argue from the evidence why a witness should be believed.” Commonwealth v. Thomas, 401 Mass. 109, 116 (1987). A prosecutor may also make a fair response to an attack on the credibility of a witness. Commonwealth v. Chavis, 415 Mass. 703, 713 (1993). See also Commonwealth v. Brewer, 472 Mass. 307, 315 (2015) (prosecutor’s statement that jury had “no reason to doubt” witness was proper response to defense’s assertion that witness was not credible).
References to the View. Counsel may ask the jury in a closing to consider things they saw on a view. Commonwealth v. Fitzgerald, 376 Mass. 402, 420 (1978). But see Commonwealth v. Brea, 488 Mass. 150, 167–168 (2021) (error for prosecutor to ask jurors to compare their recollections of event that occurred during the view but unrelated to case as illustration of vagaries of human memory). Cross-Reference: Section 1109, View.
Stipulation or Transcript. Counsel may read from or quote any transcript or stipulation that has been admitted in evidence but must provide a copy to opposing counsel in advance of the argument. Commonwealth. Commonwealth v. Delacruz, 443 Mass. 692, 694–696 (2005).
Special Role of the Prosecutor. The prosecutor performs a special function in representing the Commonwealth. The interest of the prosecutor is “not that [the government] shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. . . . It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.” Commonwealth v. Keo, 467 Mass. 25, 35–36 (2014), quoting Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935). See also Commonwealth v. Shelley, 374 Mass. 466, 472 (1978) (“The prosecuting attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.”).
“Prosecutors may “argu[e] forcefully for a conviction based on the evidence" and reasonable inferences that therefrom but “should not refer to the defendant’s failure to testify, misstate the evidence or refer to facts not in evidence, interject personal belief in the defendant’s guilt, play on racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice or on the jury’s sympathy or emotions, or comment on the consequences of a verdictt” (footnotes omitted)
Commonwealth v. Kozec, 399 Mass. 514, 516–517 (1987). Prosecutors should also refrain from making comments that “undermine the spirit,” if not “the letter,” of a judge’s prior ruling. Commonwealth v. Durand, 475 Mass. 657, 672 (2016) (prosecutor’s comment, while not prejudicial, “unfairly suggested that the defendant withheld . . . information, and that this act reflected consciousness of guilt”).
Within reason, prosecutors may comment on the tactics and strategy of the defense. Compare Commonwealth v. Felder, 455 Mass. 359, 369 (2009) (“When read in context, there was no error in the prosecutor’s limited references to the attempts by defense counsel to create ‘smoke screen[s].’”); Commonwealth v. Espada, 450 Mass. 687, 699 (2008) (not improper for prosecutor to refer to defendant’s “story as ‘ridiculous’”); Commonwealth v. Raposa, 440 Mass. 684, 697 (2004) (not improper for prosecutor to remark, “‘I mean, thank goodness you folks have notes . . . because it’s not what [defense counsel] tells you the evidence is,’” or to describe defense counsel “as an attorney able to ‘spin gold from straw’”), and Commonwealth v. MacDonald (No. 1), 368 Mass. 395, 401 (1975) (“Comment by the prosecutor on the tactics of the defense, based on the evidence and what the jury could observe in the court room, is permissible”), with Commonwealth v. Gentile, 437 Mass. 569, 580–581 (2002) (“Characterizing the defense tactic as ‘despicable’ goes beyond labeling it as unworthy of belief or lacking in merit and smacks more of an ad hominem attack.”); and Commonwealth v. McCravy, 430 Mass. 758, 764 (2000) (prosecutor may address a particular point in defense counsel’s closing argument as a sham, but may not characterize the entire defense as such). See also Commonwealth v. Silanskas, 433 Mass. 678, 702–703 (2001) (improper to comment on length of defense closing). “[A] prosecutor is free to marshal the evidence in the Commonwealth’s favor and to explain why the defendant’s arguments are unfounded” but should avoid mocking such arguments with excessive rhetoric. Commonwealth v. Fahey, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 304, 313 (2021) (excessive for prosecutor to tell jury “to cast aside this ridiculous, ridiculous notion that the defendant did not stomp on [the victim’s] head”).
A prosecutor must be careful in making comments about defense counsel. See Commonwealth v. Lewis, 465 Mass. 119, 132 (2013) improper for prosecutor to argue that defense counsel was lying); Commonwealth v. Fernandes, 436 Mass. 671, 674 (2002) (improper to characterize defense counsel as “obscuring the truth or intentionally misleading the jury”); Commonwealth v. Hawley, 380 Mass. 70, 84–85 (1980) (“impropriety lay in the prosecutor’s suggestion that defense counsel was an active participant, if not the leader or mastermind, in the commission of the crimes of perjury”); Commonwealth v. Burts, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 684, 687–688 (2007) (“Criticisms of the defendant’s attorney, including the prosecutor’s urging of the jurors to be angry with the attorney, were improper and, among other things, impugned two basic constitutional rights, that of counsel, as well as the right of a defendant to make his defense.”); Commonwealth v. Awad, 47 Mass. App. Ct. 139, 142 (1999) (“Disparaging remarks about the qualifications or motivations of defense counsel, or lawyers in general, are disfavored.”).
Similarly, a prosecutor may not engage in “prejudicial name-calling.” Commonwealth v. Rivera, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 321, 328 (2001). See Commonwealth v. Rutherford, 476 Mass. 639, 644 (2017) (arguing that an expert “needs to become a human being” is inappropriate); Commonwealth v. Cosme, 410 Mass. 746, 754 (1991) (prosecutor’s comments regarding two defense witnesses, including referring to them as “dog and pony show,” were “tasteless and improper”); Commonwealth v. Saunders, 75 Mass. App. Ct. 505, 511 (2009) (“A prosecutor should not use extreme epithets to characterize the defendant.”).
“A prosecutor’s role at a trial does not change where the defendant represents himself.” Commonwealth v. Sapoznik, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 236, 240 n.3 (1990).
The disciplinary authority governing the special responsibilities of a prosecutor is Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.8 (2016).
Retaliatory Reply. "Fighting fire with fire" does not mean that a prosecutor has a right to exceed the proper bounds of closing argument because defense counsel did so. It means only that “a prosecutor may properly comment to correct ‘an erroneous impression created by opposing counsel.’” Commonwealth v. Kozec, 399 Mass. 514, 519 n.9 (1987), quoting Commonwealth v. Bradshaw, 385 Mass. 244, 277 (1982). Compare Commonwealth v. Sun, 490 Mass. 196, 218–219 (2022) (prosecutor’s statement that others involved in murder “may deserve worse than they may get” was proper rebuttal to defense counsel’s suggestion that codefendant received greatly reduced sentence as result of plea negotiations), Commonwealth v. Rivera, 425 Mass. 633, 647 (1997) (“The prosecutor was entitled to respond to defense counsel’s improper suggestions regarding the use of prior convictions, and his reminder to the jury of the limited use of the defendant’s prior convictions, although not artful, is not a ground for reversal.”), and Commonwealth v. Prendergast, 385 Mass. 625, 633–634 (1982) (where defense counsel cited defendant’s hospital records as evidence that defendant was mentally ill and dangerous and, therefore, not criminally responsible, prosecutor’s statement that hospital records did not prevent jury from finding defendant criminally responsible was within “right of retaliatory reply”), with Commonwealth v. Lopes, 478 Mass. 593, 607 (2018) (prosecutor’s characterizations of defense argument as “insult,” “farce,” and “distraction” were overly aggressive response), and Commonwealth v. McCoy, 59 Mass. App. Ct. 284, 296 (2003) (prosecutor “exceeded the bounds of fair, corrective response” when he “impermissibly appealed to the jury’s emotional concern for crime-free streets by inferentially urging their trust in the police witnesses who had long protected those streets”).
Subsection (b)(3)(A). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Beaudry, 445 Mass. 577, 580 (2005); Commonwealth v. Pearce, 427 Mass. 642, 646 (1998); and Hart v. Morris & Co., 259 Mass. 211, 214–215 (1927). The right to argue inferences from the evidence does not include the right to “lead the jury to an improper inference not from the evidence but from the apparent personal knowledge of the attorney.” Commonwealth v. Nordstrom, 364 Mass. 310, 315 (1973). See also Commonwealth v. Jones, 471 Mass. 138, 147–149 (2015) (improper for prosecutor to argue that defendant might have assaulted another victim if child had not moved away).
A party may not misstate the evidence. See Commonwealth v. Sanders, 451 Mass. 290, 298–300 (2008) (multiple misstatements of evidence); Commonwealth v. Coren, 437 Mass. 723, 731 (2002) (“We conclude that the prosecutor exceeded the scope of proper argument by misstating important aspects of the testimony beyond inferences that might reasonably have been drawn from the evidence, and thereby committed error.”); Commonwealth v. Daley, 66 Mass. App. Ct. 254, 257 (2006) (prosecutor misstated evidence by telling jury that trooper detected a "strong" odor of alcohol; where trooper’s testimony was that he detected “moderate” odor).
A party may not refer to facts not in evidence. See Commonwealth Commonwealth v. Brown, 490 Mass. 171, 193 (2022) (no evidence to support prosecutor’s statements that defendant was “plotting” to kill victim); Commonwealth v. Sheehan, 435 Mass. 183, 191 (2001) (prosecutor had “no support in the evidence for labelling the defendant a ‘predator,’ and the remark was unwarranted”). If evidence has been excluded, a party may not exploit the absence of that evidence in closing argument, nor may a party argue that evidence would have been available but for a prohibition of law. See Commonwealth v. Dirgo, 474 Mass. 1012, 1015–1016 (2016) (error for prosecutor to argue she could have provided “parade” of witnesses to corroborate complainant’s testimony but for first complaint doctrine); Commonwealth v. Harris, 443 Mass. 714, 732 (2005) (“Counsel may not, in closing, ‘exploit the absence of evidence that had been excluded at his request.’ Such exploitation of absent, excluded evidence is ‘fundamentally unfair’ and ‘reprehensible.’” [Citations omitted].); Commonwealth v. Grimshaw, 412 Mass. 505, 508 (1992) (“A prosecutor is barred from referring in closing argument to matter that has been excluded from evidence, and a prosecutor should also refrain from inviting an inference from the jury about the same excluded subject matter” [citation omitted].). It is improper to suggest that witnesses listed but not called would have provided favorable evidence. Commonwealth v. Wardsworth, 482 Mass. 454, 479–480 (2019).
A party may not use evidence for a purpose other than the limited purpose for which it was admitted. See Commonwealth v. Niemic, 483 Mass. 571, 584–585 (2019) (“prosecutor’s repeated use of what had been admitted for a limited purpose as substantive evidence . . . undermined the heart of the defense”); Commonwealth v. Howard, 469 Mass. 721, 738 (2014) (even when evidence of prior bad acts has been properly admitted, improper to cite that evidence in support of propensity-based argument in closing); Commonwealth v. Daley, 439 Mass. 558, 565–566 & n.3 (2003) (error for prosecutor to argue that “defendant’s ‘character’ as a dealer in crack cocaine and as a ‘thief’ should be used by the jury in assessing his credibility” where evidence was admitted for impeachment purposes only); Commonwealth v. Rosa, 412 Mass. 147, 156 (1992) (“A prosecutor may not present to the jury evidence admitted for a limited purpose as if it were substantive evidence.”); Commonwealth v. Burns, 49 Mass. App. Ct. 677, 683 (2000) (where prosecutor impeached witness with grand jury testimony, subsequent “substantive use” of same testimony in closing argument was improper).
It is improper to argue that a witness should be believed because the witness appeared in court to testify. Commonwealth v. Polk, 462 Mass. 23, 39 (2012). A prosecutor may argue that a testifying defendant’s credibility may be scrutinized because of the defendant’s interest interest in the outcome of the case. However, it is improper to argue that the testimony of a defendant is inherently incredible and should not be considered as evidence. See Commonwealth v. Niemic, 472 Mass. 665, 674–675 (2015).
Child Sexual Assault Cases. A prosecutor must proceed with great caution before suggesting that a child who is alleged to be the victim of a sexual assault could only have acquired knowledge of sexual acts from the experience of victimization. See Commonwealth v. Beaudry, 445 Mass. 577, 580, 581–582 (2005) (declining to assume that twelve-year-old child is unfamiliar with sexual acts and terminology, while noting that an argument that a child had age-inappropriate knowledge could be made if supported by expert witness testimony); Commonwealth v. Helberg, 73 Mass. App. Ct. 175, 179 (2008), quoting Commonwealth v. Fuller, 22 Mass. App. Ct. 152, 158 (1986) (“[A] prosecutor may not suggest that a child sexual abuse victim ‘wouldn’t have that kind of idea in her head unless something like that happened to her.’”).
Collateral Sources of Compensation. In general, information of “outside source” compensation is legally irrelevant and should not be referred to in the closing argument. See Goldstein v. Gontarz, 364 Mass. 800, 808–809 (1974). See also Commonwealth v. Murray, 22 Mass. App. Ct. 984, 985 (1986) (improper to suggest that victim of theft had recovered his loss because recovery would not diminish crime).
Reference to Damages. Rule 51(a)(2) of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure allows parties in civil cases to suggest a specific amount of monetary damages during closing argument. However, “[a]n argument concerning money damages indulging in significant references to numerical amounts that have no basis in the record is improper. Repeated, substantive discussions of hypothetical damages in other circumstances, and especially references to verdicts in other cases, are not proper.” Harlow v. Chin, 405 Mass. 697, 704 (1989).
Missing Witnesses. If the trial judge declines to give a missing witness instruction, counsel is not permitted to argue that an adverse inference should be drawn against the other side for not calling the witness. Commonwealth v. Saletino, 449 Mass. 657, 670–672 (2007).
Consciousness of Guilt. A party is permitted to argue consciousness of guilt or liability even without a jury instruction. Commonwealth v. Franklin, 465 Mass. 895, 915 (2013).
Use of Props. Counsel may not display objects not in evidence and should discuss any “plan to employ dramatic props with the judge during the pre-argument conference.” Commonwealth v. Hoppin, 387 Mass. 25, 30–32 (1982).
Use of Chalks. A judge has “considerable, but not unrestrained, discretion as to the degree to which chalks can be used” to illustrate the evidence for the jury and to make use of such aids in closing argument (citation omitted). Commonwealth v. Walker, 10 Mass. App. Ct. 255, 264 (1980). See also Goldstein v. Gontarz, 364 Mass. 800, 814 (1974) (“Permission to use a blackboard as a graphic aid is discretionary with the trial judge.”).
Disciplinary Authority. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.4(e) (2015), 3.8(i) (1999), 8.4(d) (2015); Private Reprimand No. 91‑21, 7 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 356 (1991) (among other issues, lawyer in administrative proceeding alluded in closing to matters ruled inadmissible); Admonition No. 05‑04, 21 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 671 (2005), at http://perma.cc/Y8R2-ZWEJ (among other issues, prosecutor referred in closing arguments to police reports excluded from evidence); and Admonition No. 01‑20, 17 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 694 (2001), at http://perma.cc/R5FD-E5JX (prosecutor referred in closing argument to defendant’s prior convictions, despite instructions from judge not to do so).
Subsection (b)(3)(B). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Kee, 449 Mass. 550, 560 (2007). See also Warren v. Edgeco, Inc., 8 Mass. App. Ct. 171, 177 (1979) (improper for plaintiff’s counsel to express personal opinions on strength of evidence and veracity of witness). Counsel should avoid phrases such as “I think,” “I feel,” and “I believe” because they create the risk of conveying to the jury that counsel is expressing a personal opinion concerning the evidence or the credibility of witnesses. See Commonwealth v. Finstein, 426 Mass. 200, 205 n.1 (1997). But see Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 428 Mass. 852, 856–857 (1999) (prosecutor’s “use of phrases ‘I think,’ ‘I suggest,’ to preface some remarks did not, viewed in their proper context, imply that the prosecutor had personal knowledge or was stating a personal belief”). Prosecutors should avoid the repeated use of the pronoun “we” for the same reason. See Commonwealth v. Burts, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 684, 688–689 (2007).
Improper Vouching. An attorney may not express a personal belief in a witness’s credibility or suggest that the attorney has knowledge of facts beyond the evidence. Commonwealth v. Ortega, 441 Mass. 170, 181 (2004). Thus, argument based on an attorney’s “own subjective assessment of the evidence is improper.” Commonwealth v. Santiago, 425 Mass. 491, 498 (1997), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1003 (1998). See also Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 203 (1977) (error for prosecutor to argue that he was “firmly convinced in [his] mind” of defendant’s guilt). Cf. Commonwealth v. Sun, 490 Mass. 196, 219–221 (2022) (not improper vouching to characterize witness’s testimony as “reliable and accurate” based on fair inferences from evidence); Commonwealth v. Gonsalves, 488 Mass. 827, 841–842 (2022) (not improper vouching for prosecutor to repeat witness’s explanation about why her statements to police changed); Commonwealth v. Fernandes, 478 Mass. 725, 743 (2018) (use of rhetorical questions regarding motive to testify and credibility of witnesses was not improper vouching); Kee, 449 Mass. at 560 (comments about experience of police witnesses proper to show why those witnesses should be believed and did not amount to improper vouching); Commonwealth v. Kozec, 399 Mass. 514, 521 (1987) (“It is not improper to make a factually based argument that, due to the demeanor, disclosed circumstances, and appearance of a witness, a particular witness should be believed or disbelieved.”).
No Motive to Lie. There is no per se rule against a prosecutor’s comment that a witness has no motive to lie when the comment is based on the evidence and is understood as a reply to a defense attack on the credibility of the witness. See Commonwealth v. Smith, 450 Mass. 395, 408 (2008); Commonwealth v. Murchison, 418 Mass. 58, 61 (1994); Commonwealth v. Helberg, 73 Mass. App. Ct. 175, 179 (2008). If defense counsel challenges the credibility of a witness in closing argument, the prosecutor may invite the jury to consider whether the witness has a motive to lie and may identify the evidence that demonstrates the accuracy and reliability of the witness’s testimony. See Commonwealth v. Polk, 462 Mass. 23, 39–40 (2012). Compare Commonwealth v. Ramos, 73 Mass. App. Ct. 824, 826 (2009) (“prosecutor may not . . . suggest to the jury that a victim’s testimony is entitled to greater credibility merely by virtue of her willingness to come into court to testify”), with Commonwealth v. Pina, 430 Mass. 266, 269 (1999) (“prosecutor may argue that it took ‘courage’ or ‘character’ for a witness to testify” where there is evidence of that witness’s fear of testifying).
Plea Agreements. Where a plea agreement requires a witness to give truthful testimony, the prosecutor must avoid any argument that the government has special knowledge or a method to determine the witness’s veracity. See Commonwealth v. Marrero, 436 Mass. 488, 501 (2002) (“[A]lthough the prosecutor was free to encourage the jury to read the [plea and immunity] agreement (especially in light of the defendants’ closing arguments to the jury that [the witness] was a ‘pretty street smart’ witness and one who ‘got her deal’ under which she ‘ha[d] to testify a certain way’), he should not have stated that [the witness] ‘tells the truth, at least that’s as far as [he] could follow it’” [footnote omitted].); Commonwealth v. Ciampa, 406 Mass. 257, 265 (1989) (“A prosecutor in closing argument may restate the government’s agreement with the witness and may argue reasonable inferences from the plea agreement’s requirement of truthful testimony. If, however, a prosecutor goes beyond the terms and circumstances of the plea agreement and suggests that the government has special knowledge by which it can verify the witness’s testimony, reversible error may occur.” [Citations omitted.]).
Disciplinary Authority. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.4(e) (2015), 8.4(d) (2015); Matter of Nelson, 25 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 413 (2009), at http://perma.cc/86SC-PSRJ (among other issues, prosecutor improperly vouched for witnesses, claiming, as to one, to have verified witness’s account by following his route to crime scene and, as to other, to have “looked at” witness and seen how he had turned his life around); Matter of the Discipline of an Attorney, 2 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 356 (1991) (among other issues, lawyer in closing argument in administrative proceeding presented his personal opinion on merits of case).
Subsection (b)(3)(C). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Kozec, 399 Mass. 514, 517 (1987); Commonwealth v. Smith, 387 Mass. 900, 909–910 (1983); Commonwealth v. Shelley, 374 Mass. 466, 470 (1978); and London v. Bay St. Ry. Co., 231 Mass. 480, 485–486 (1919). An appeal to sympathy obfuscates the “clarity with which the jury would look at the evidence and encourage[s] the jury to find guilt even if the evidence does not reach the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Commonwealth v. Guy, 454 Mass. 440, 445 (2009), quoting Commonwealth v. Santiago, 425 Mass. 491, 501 (1997), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1003 (1998). It is permissible to argue relevant inferences from the evidence, even where the subject matter is potentially gruesome or inflammatory, but care must be given not to urge the jury to go beyond the proper use of such evidence and to make a decision based on improper considerations. See Commonwealth v. Raymond, 424 Mass. 382, 389–390 (1997) (“the gruesomeness of the crimes and the suffering of the victims were relevant to the issue whether the defendant’s actions constituted extreme atrocity or cruelty”).
“Comments that appeal to emotions are ones that have the effect of engendering the jury’s anger toward the defendant or [defense] counsel so as to evoke an emotional rather than an intellectual response.” Commonwealth v. Seng, 436 Mass. 537, 556 (2002). See Laramie v. Philip Morris USA Inc., 488 Mass. 399, 419 (2021) (statement that cigarette manufacturer “invented a new kind of cancer” was improper as it was designed to enflame jurors’ passions and sympathies even though statement was loosely based on evidence at trial); Commonwealth v. Rutherford, 476 Mass. 639, 645–647 (2017) (improper to argue that victim’s life was worth $500, that jurors place themselves in victim’s shoes, and that victim was “crawling away to die,” leaving bloody hand and knee prints on floor, after giving up any hope of survival); Commonwealth v. Cadet, 473 Mass. 173, 181 (2015) (while court emphasized that “the better practice is for the prosecutor, defense counsel, the judge, and all of the witnesses to refrain from describing the person killed as the ‘victim,’” jury was likely not swayed by the use of the term). See also Commonwealth v. Moore, 489 Mass. 735, 753–754 & nn.29–30 (2022) (improper to ask jury to “[t]hink about what [murder victim] must have been thinking” when defendant pointed gun at her, and to emphasize sympathetic characteristics of victims, a mother and young child); Commonwealth v. Niemic, 472 Mass. 665, 675 (2015) (improper to comment on emotional impact of victim’s death on witnesses who saw “the color run right out of [victim], right down to gray”); Commonwealth v. Lodge, 431 Mass. 461, 470–471 (2000) (improper to argue that victim was “entitled to the right to live and [the defendant] took it”); Commonwealth v. Fahey, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 304, 311–313 (2021) (prosecutor calling defendant a “bully” thirteen times in closing argument and contrasting victim’s flattering photograph with defendant’s booking photo improperly sought to invoke jury sympathy); Commonwealth v. Ward, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 292, 295 (1990) (repeated references to extent of urban crime and duty to aid law-abiding citizens was an improper appeal to emotions and fear of jury).
While prosecutors may “humanize the proceedings” by giving some biographical detail about the victim, they must not do so in a way that appeals to the jury’s sympathy. See Commonwealth v. Kolenovic, 478 Mass. 189, 200–201 (2017) (improper appeal to sympathy for prosecutor to hold up victim’s photograph and ask, “What did he do that night to deserve to be sliced and stabbed to death?”). Words such as “brutally” and “viciously” may be used when they are apt descriptions of the evidence. Commonwealth v. Mejia, 463 Mass. 243, 254 (2012). Cf. Commonwealth v. Teixeira, 486 Mass. 617, 633–636 (2021) (suggestion that victim was “cowering” was merely speculative and prone to inflame jury).
Disciplinary Authority. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(d) (2015); Matter of Nelson, 25 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 413 (2009), at http://perma.cc/86SC-PSRJ (among other issues, prosecutor improperly implied to jury that they should avenge victim); and Admonition No. 01-03, 17 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 659 (2001), at http://perma.cc/R5FD-E5JX (prosecutor made improper appeal to sympathy for victim).
Defendant’s Lack of Remorse. It is improper for a prosecutor to comment on the defendant’s lack of remorse. Commonwealth v. Borodine, 371 Mass. 1, 9 (1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1049 (1977). It is also improper to argue guilt based on the prosecutor’s perception of the defendant’s expression when the victim testified. Commonwealth v. Kozec, 399 Mass. 514, 523 (1987). See also Commonwealth v. Moffat, 486 Mass. 193, 202 (2020) (drawing connection between defendant’s “stone cold” and emotionless testimony at trial with “stone cold” nature of killing went beyond benign comments about defendant’s credibility). Comments about the defendant’s lack of remorse may be cured by instruction. Borodine, 371 Mass. at 9–10.
Justice to the Victim. It is improper for a prosecutor to ask the jury to give justice to the victim. Commonwealth v. Niemic, 472 Mass. 665, 676 (2015). A criminal trial is not “a dispute between a deceased victim on the one hand, and the defendant on the other,” and a prosecutor is not permitted “to exhort the jury to dispense justice evenly between them.” Id. See also Commonwealth v. Torres, 437 Mass. 460, 465 (2002) (improper to urge jurors to “answer the call for justice” and hold defendant accountable).
Resort to Stereotypes. Prosecutors and defense counsel should refrain from what is termed “broadbrushing” or arguments based on stereotypes. See Commonwealth v. Murchison, 35 Mass. App. Ct. 269, 274–75 (1993) (improper for defense counsel to characterize police witnesses as “soldiers in a war on drugs” and “zealots who sacrifice the truth”). The use of language containing “conscious or subconscious racist concepts and frames” is impermissible in closing argument. See Commonwealth v. Tate, 486 Mass. 663, 674 (2021) (“drawing distinctions between suburban and urban defendants may be interpreted as grossly improper racist ‘dog whistles’”). See also Commonwealth v. Clary, 388 Mass. 583, 592 (1983) (insinuations regarding defendant’s sexual preference were highly improper and likely to instigate prejudice against her).
Righting Corporate Wrongs. In civil cases, it is improper to appeal to biases against large corporations and to urge the jury to right a corporate wrong. See Fitzpatrick v. Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers of N.Y., Inc., 487 Mass. 507, 511–512, 517 (2021) (counsel improperly urged jury to decide case with “us versus them” attitude and to act as “voice of the community” by punishing corporate defendants); London v. Bay State St. Ry. Co., 231 Mass. 480, 485–486 (1919) (summation improper where it covertly appealed to jury “to make this great and powerful corporation . . . feel the jury’s power”).
Use of Epithets and Prejudicial Name-Calling. Prosecutors should not use extreme epithets to characterize the defendant or defense witnesses, nor should they resort to prejudicial name-calling. See Commonwealth v. Saunders, 75 Mass. App. Ct. 505, 511 (2009) (improper to describe defendant as “[s]wooping down like a vulture” to take advantage of victim); Commonwealth v. Rivera, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 321, 328 (2001) (prosecutor went too far by describing defense witness as a “punk” and a “stooge”). See also Commonwealth v. Bishop, 461 Mass. 586, 598 (2012) (although prosecutor may remind jury that expert witness was retained by defendant, improper to play on jury’s prejudices by suggesting that expert’s testimony was “bought” or to characterize expert as a “hired gun” where “there was no evidence that he was paid more than his customary fee”).
Subsection (b)(3)(D). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Finstein, 426 Mass. 200, 205 n.1 (1997), where the court cautioned against so-called “Golden Rule” arguments in which jurors are asked to place themselves or a relative in the shoes of a party, witness, or victim. See also Commonwealth v. Witkowski, 487 Mass. 675, 684–685 (2021) (“jury should not be asked to put themselves ‘in the shoes’ of the victim, or otherwise be asked to identify with the victim”); Fitzpatrick v. Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers of N.Y., Inc., 487 Mass. 507, 511, 517 (2021) (improper for plaintiff’s counsel to make “golden rule” arguments by “asking the jury to identify with the plaintiff”).
Subsection (b)(3)(E). This subsection is derived from, among other cases, Commonwealth v. Thomas, 401 Mass. 109, 113 (1987), quoting Commonwealth v. Smith, 387 Mass. 900, 903 (1983) (“We reiterate that ‘[l]awyers shall not and must not misstate principles of law nor may their summations infringe or denigrate constitutional rights.’”); Commonwealth v. Amirault, 404 Mass. 221, 240 (1989) (“prosecutor cannot comment on a defendant’s failure to contradict testimony and cannot make statements that shift the burden of proof from the Commonwealth to the defendant”); and Commonwealth v. Person, 400 Mass. 136, 141 (1987) (prosecutor may not ask jury to draw inference of guilt from defendant’s exercise of right to advice of counsel).
Misstatements of Law. For examples of misstatements of law during closing arguments, see Commonwealth v. Scesny, 472 Mass. 185, 202 (2015) (error for prosecutor to repeatedly characterize admitted defense evidence related to third-party defense as “irrelevant and immaterial ‘information,’ unworthy of even being called ‘evidence’”); Commonwealth v. Morales, 461 Mass. 765, 783 (2012) (prosecutor misstated law of deliberately premeditated murder); Commonwealth v. Weaver, 400 Mass. 612, 615–616 (1987) (error to suggest that prosecutor’s duties were to present all evidence and help jury discover truth, whereas function of defense counsel was to create doubts in minds of jury); Commonwealth v. Killelea, 370 Mass. 638, 646 (1976) (misstatement of meaning of not guilty by reason of insanity); and Commonwealth v. Pagano, 47 Mass. App. Ct. 55, 62 (1999) (misstatement of presumption of innocence).
A party should not attempt to define “reasonable doubt.” Commonwealth v. Snow, 30 Mass. App. Ct. 443, 447 (1991). Also, it is not proper for a prosecutor to tell jurors not to be “intimidated” by the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Commonwealth v. Cook, 419 Mass. 192, 203 (1994).
Barring any misstatements of law, a party is allowed to “argue the law as applied to the evidence.” Bloom v. Town Taxi, Inc., 336 Mass. 78, 80 (1957) (refusal to allow plaintiffs to argue the law as applied to the evidence impaired right “to have their cases fully presented to the jury”).
Shifting Burden of Proof. For examples of arguments that were deemed to amount to burden shifting, see Commonwealth v. Brown, 490 Mass. 171, 194 (2022) (improper for prosecutor to suggest that defendant should have offered explanation for his behavior); Commonwealth v. Rivera, 482 Mass. 259, 271 (2019) (prosecutor’s repeated use of “justification” in closing argument improperly suggested that defendant was required to demonstrate justification for killing); and Commonwealth v. Trinh, 458 Mass. 776, 787 (2011) (prosecutor engaged in burden shifting by suggesting that defendant had “an affirmative duty to bring forth evidence of his innocence”).
For examples of arguments that were deemed not to amount to burden shifting, see Commonwealth v. Fernandes, 478 Mass. 725, 741–742 (2018) (no burden shifting where prosecutor responded to defense counsel’s closing argument by arguing that evidence presented was not a series of coincidences and using rhetorical questions to suggest that defense theory was implausible); Commonwealth v. Silva, 471 Mass. 610, 622–623 (2015) (permissible for prosecutor to state that “there is not a scintilla of evidence to support” a proposition advanced by defense because statement was not directed at defendant’s failure to testify); Commonwealth v. Nelson, 468 Mass. 1, 12–13 (2014) (when viewed in context of entire argument, prosecutor’s reference to lack of any evidence that victim had knife was not improper because it was directed more at weakness of defendant’s claim of self-defense than at defendant’s failure to testify or produce evidence); Commonwealth v. Johnson, 463 Mass. 95, 112 (2012) (“on balance,” prosecutor’s statements to effect that facts were “stubborn” and “hard” for defendant to “deal with” or “get around” amounted to “permissible commentary on the strength of the Commonwealth’s case, which did not cross over into burden shifting”); Commonwealth v. Miranda, 458 Mass. 100, 117 (2010) (prosecutor’s remarks that may have implied that defendant did not contest balance of Commonwealth’s evidence from certain witnesses did “not approach the sort of burden shifting that results from direct comment on a defendant’s failure to contradict testimony”); Commonwealth v. Stewart, 454 Mass. 527, 539–540 (2009) (albeit “close to the line,” there was no burden shifting where prosecutor stated that while there may be no “trace evidence” placing defendant at scene, “there is nothing that excludes him from being there; that proves he wasn’t there”); Commonwealth v. Montez, 450 Mass. 736, 747 (2008) (prosecutor’s statement that defense counsel never addressed certain evidence was not comment on defendant’s failure to present evidence and did not impermissibly shift burden of proof); Commonwealth v. Feroli, 407 Mass. 405, 408–409 (1990) (“A prosecutor is entitled to emphasize the strong points of the Commonwealth’s case and the weaknesses of the defendant’s case, even though he may, in so doing, prompt some collateral or passing reflection on the fact that the defendant declined to testify.”); Commonwealth v. Ahern, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 197, 202–204 (2019) (no burden shifting where prosecutor noted that defendant had failed to produce evidence promised in defendant’s opening statement); and Commonwealth v. Ayoub, 77 Mass. App. Ct. 563, 567 (2010) (prosecutor’s statements constituted commentary on the weakness of the defense, not a suggestion “that the defendant had failed to prove his innocence”).
Inferring Guilt from Exercise of Constitutional Right. A prosecutor may not ask the finder of fact to infer guilt based on the defendant’s exercise of a constitutional right. See Commonwealth v. Person, 400 Mass. 136, 141 (1987) (prosecutor may not ask jury to draw inference of guilt from defendant’s exercise of right to advice of counsel); Commonwealth v. Hughes, 82 Mass. App. Ct. 21, 29–31 (2012) (“plain error” for prosecutor to suggest in “closing argument that the jury could conclude that the Commonwealth’s case was strong, because the defendant chose to put on witnesses even though he had no obligation to do so”).
Commenting on Exercise of Right to Remain Silent. Except in rare circumstances, a prosecutor may not comment on the defendant’s exercise of the right to remain silent. Compare Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610, 618 (1976) (a defendant’s post-Miranda silence cannot be used “to impeach an explanation subsequently offered at trial”), Commonwealth v. Walters, 485 Mass. 271, 292 (2020) (improper for prosecutor to argue that psychologist’s assessment could not be trusted because defendant was unlikely to tell truth after receiving Lamb warning, which is extension of defendant’s right to remain silent), Commonwealth v. Beneche, 458 Mass. 61, 75–76 (2010) (prosecutor should not have mentioned defendant’s statement, “I don’t want to talk about it,” because “a defendant’s statements about his desire not to speak with police may suggest to the jury that the defendant is guilty simply because he chose to exercise his constitutional right to silence”), and Commonwealth v. Brum, 438 Mass. 103, 121 (2003) (“It does not appear that there was any need to resort to the defendant’s invocation of his right to remain silent as a method of explaining any abrupt end to either interview, or any other permissible basis for admitting evidence of the defendant’s refusal to answer further questions.”), with Commonwealth v. Torres, 442 Mass. 554, 578 (2004) (“we have recognized that, in some rare circumstances, a defendant’s invocation of his right to remain silent may be presented to the jury in order to avoid juror confusion about why an interview ended abruptly”), and cases cited, Commonwealth v. Caputo, 439 Mass. 153, 166 (2003) (“prosecutor’s reference in his closing statement to the defendant’s invocation of his right to remain silent was permissible” because “defense counsel elicited [testimony that defendant invoked right], and because in his closing argument the prosecutor referred to the statement solely to challenge the defendant’s claim of coercion”), and Commonwealth v. Lodge, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 415, 419 (2016) (prosecutor’s comments on “omissions” in statement defendant gave to police after receiving Miranda warnings were not improper because “defendant had a constitutional right to silence, not a right to tell a story and then avoid explaining crucial omissions by stating they were an exercise of the right to silence”).
Commenting on Criminal Defendant Not Testifying. A prosecutor may not ask the jury to draw an inference of guilt from a defendant’s decision not to testify at trial. Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 615 (1965). Accordingly, a prosecutor may not make any statement that is “reasonably susceptible” of being interpreted as a comment on a defendant’s exercise of that right. Commonwealth v. Pena, 455 Mass. 1, 19 (2009); Commonwealth v. Botelho, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 846, 853 (2015). See Commonwealth v. Grant, 418 Mass. 76, 83 (1994), quoting Commonwealth v. Smallwood, 379 Mass. 878, 892 (1980) (It is “well settled that a prosecutor may ask the jury rhetorical questions that touch on the defendant’s constitutional right not to incriminate himself without violating that right provided the questions are not ‘of such a nature that a jury would naturally and necessarily construe them to be directed to the failure of the defendant to testify.’”).
References to Evidence as Uncontradicted or Uncontested. “References to material facts as uncontradicted or uncontested invariably approach the border of the forbidden territory of speculation regarding the absence of testimony by the defendant.” Commonwealth v. Buzzell, 53 Mass. App. Ct. 362, 366–367 (2001). Thus, “[a] claim that certain evidence is uncontested should be made with caution and only after careful reflection concerning the specific circumstances in which the defendant could have produced contradictory evidence.” Commonwealth v. Hawley, 380 Mass. 70, 83–84 (1980). Accord Commonwealth v. Wilson, 443 Mass. 122, 132 (2004). See also Commonwealth v. Borodine, 371 Mass. 1, 10 (1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1049 (1977) (prosecutor’s references to facts as “uncontested” were improper because defendant was only person who could contradict them).
Commenting on Criminal Defendant’s Testimony. A “prosecutor may, if there is a basis in the evidence introduced at trial, attack the credibility of a defendant on the ground that his testimony has been shaped or changed in response to listening to the testimony of other witnesses.” Commonwealth v. Gaudette, 441 Mass. 762, 767 (2004). The propriety of such a comment may depend on whether the defendant made a pretrial statement to police. Compare Commonwealth v. Mendez, 476 Mass. 512, 521–522 (2017) (prosecutor permissibly argued that defendant conformed his trial testimony to Commonwealth’s evidence at trial when his initial statement to police officers on night of incident was different from his testimony at trial), with Commonwealth v. Person, 400 Mass. 136, 138–143 (1987) (prosecutor impermissibly commented on defendant’s right to remain silent when he stated that defendant, who had not made pretrial statement, sat through prosecutor’s presentation at trial and fabricated a story that countered prosecution’s theory of case), and Commonwealth v. McCray, 40 Mass. App. Ct. 936, 937 (1996) (“prosecutor erred when he argued that the defendant had ‘the benefit of [the complainant’s] testimony over the course of the two days’ and ‘was able to conform her story with that’”).
On a related matter, a prosecutor should generally avoid suggesting that testimony was “‘rehearse[d]’ because it may impinge on the defendant’s right to prepare for trial.” Commonwealth v. Dodgson, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 307, 314 (2011). But see Commonwealth v. Hanino, 82 Mass. App. Ct. 489, 498 (2012), quoting Commonwealth v. Haraldstad, 16 Mass. App. Ct. 565, 574 (1983) (“Although it would have been preferable had the prosecutor avoided the word ‘rehearsed,’ there is a qualitative difference between implying that it is improper for counsel to prepare a witness and ‘casting doubt on testimony by calling attention to extraordinary parallels between what a group of witnesses who could talk to each other have said on the stand.’”).
Prearrest Silence. Commenting on a defendant’s prearrest silence should be approached with caution but is proper if there is a basis in the evidence that it would have been natural for the defendant to speak in the circumstances. Compare Commonwealth v. Womack, 457 Mass. 268, 277–278 (2010) (“The defendant’s silence in response to [the lieutenant’s] query into his reason for standing outside the store for two seconds without entering was not an exercise of his right to remain silent, but a failure to respond to a particular question. As such it was admissible in evidence, and subject to comment” [citation omitted].), and Commonwealth v. Thompson, 431 Mass. 108, 118, cert. denied, 531 U.S. 864 (2000) (“[T]he prosecutor here did not comment on the defendant’s failure to proclaim his innocence, but rather on his failure to ask appropriate questions that an innocent party would ordinarily ask. The defendant did not invoke at any time his right to stop the questioning and be silent. Instead, the defendant agreed to give a far-ranging statement over several hours. It was therefore proper for the prosecutor to comment on the fact that the defendant did not ask appropriate questions.”), with Commonwealth v. Gardner, 479 Mass. 764, 772 (2018) (despite fact that defendant did not assert self-defense until four days after arrest, prosecutor’s reference to defendant’s prearrest silence was improper), and Commonwealth v. Haas, 373 Mass. 545, 558–559 (1977) (prosecutor’s, asking jury to infer guilt from fact that defendant had not spontaneously volunteered his innocence during interrogation by police, were improper).
Statements Concerning Role of the Jury. A prosecutor may not make any comment that could be interpreted to suggest that jurors have a duty to convict. Commonwealth v. Miller, 457 Mass. 69, 79–80 (2010); Commonwealth v. Francis, 450 Mass. 132, 140 (2007). Nor should either party suggest that jurors may need to explain the verdict. Commonwealth v. Quinn, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 332, 334–335 (2004). “It [is] also inappropriate for the prosecutor to tell the jurors that they [are] the ‘conscience of the community.’ They bear no such burden; their role in a trial is limited to finding the facts on the basis of the evidence dispassionately and impartially.” Commonwealth v. Mathews, 31 Mass. App. Ct. 564, 573 (1991), cert. denied sub nom. Mathews v. Rakiey, 504 U.S. 922 (1992). See also Commonwealth v. Scesny, 472 Mass. 185, 200 (2015) (“prosecutor’s characterization of his role as representing the ‘citizens’ ran the risk of suggesting that the prosecutor was representing the jurors-as-citizens against the defendant, and in that way misrepresenting or at least confusing the jurors’ actual role as neutral fact finders”). Finally, while jurors may be encouraged to examine physical evidence, it is improper to suggest they conduct outside experiments or investigations. Commonwealth v. Beauchamp, 424 Mass. 682, 691 (1997).
Consequences of Verdict. A party should not discuss the consequences of a verdict with jury. See Commonwealth v. Duguay, 430 Mass. 397, 404 (1999) (“clearly error for the prosecutor to address the issue of punishment” with jury); Commonwealth v. Ruddock, 428 Mass. 288, 292–293 (1998) (“Of course, a prosecutor should not argue to the jury that, if found not guilty by reason of insanity, a defendant will be released.”).
Comment on Criminal Defendant’s Courtroom Appearance or Conduct. In a criminal case, “a prosecutorial argument that the jury should draw inferences against a defendant who did nothing but behave properly in the courtroom is improper.” Commonwealth v. Young, 399 Mass. 527, 531 (1987) (improper for prosecutor to ask jurors if they noticed how defendant “just sits there stone-faced, cool, never blinks an eye, doesn’t get upset about anything” and suggest it was evidence of defendant’s ability to control and conceal emotions). See also Commonwealth v. Kozec, 399 Mass. 514, 523 (1987) (unfair and improper for prosecutor to comment that “the defendant looked sorry when the victim testified because she knew the truth about what happened between them would come out”); Commonwealth v. Valliere, 366 Mass. 479, 494–495 (1974) (improper for prosecutor to suggest that defendant demonstrated consciousness of guilt by reading transcripts or suggesting questions to counsel). Contrast Commonwealth v. Smith, 387 Mass. 900, 907 (1983) (prosecutor’s comments about defendant’s demeanor during trial, including “smirking,” “laughing,” and “squirming,” were permissible where jurors were in position to observe demeanor for themselves). Relevant observable changes in a defendant’s appearance, however, are fair game. See Commonwealth v. Pina, 406 Mass. 540, 548 (1998) (where evidence showed that defendant changed hairstyle and shaved mustache soon after crime, proper for prosecutor to ask during closing why a person would do that). So too are relevant physical characteristics of a defendant. See Commonwealth v. Cohen, 412 Mass. 375, 385–386 (1992) (proper for prosecutor to point out that defendant was right-handed where it could be inferred from the evidence that shooter held gun in right hand); Commonwealth v. Rogers, 43 Mass. App. Ct. 782, 787 (1997) (proper to refer to defendant’s size in comparison to size of victim).
Use of Rhetorical Questions. Rhetorical questions are not per se impermissible. See Commonwealth v. Habarek, 402 Mass. 105, 111 (1988) (no error in prosecutor asking rhetorically and in reference to motive, “Why? Why does a person do that?”); Commonwealth v. Lawton, 82 Mass. App. Ct. 528, 541–542 (2012) (to extent prosecutor’s suggestion that victim’s testimony was “guided by the truth” came “too close to explicit vouching,” it was not reversible error when viewed in context of argument as a whole and judge’s instruction that arguments are not evidence); Commonwealth v. Flint, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 794, 807 (2012) (“In the face of . . . direct assertions of evidence of improper motives underlying the victim’s accusations, it was fair for the prosecutor to reply by asking the jury rhetorically, ‘Why would a person make up something like this? What is the motive to fabricate? Are they being honest? Are they responsive to questions? Are they being direct? Do they appear to be forthcoming? Do they appear to be genuine? Do they sound as if they are giving contrived answers?’”).
Disciplinary Authority. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(d) (2015) (“It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to . . . engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”) and Admonition No. 05‑04, 21 Mass. Att’y Discipline Rep. 671 (2005), at http://perma.cc/Y8R2-ZWEJ (among other issues, prosecutor, without court authorization, improperly commented during closing on defendant’s failure to call a witness).
Subsection (b)(3)(F). This subsection is derived from Fyffe v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 457, 478 (2014). “Jury nullification is inconsistent with a jury’s duty to return a guilty verdict of the highest crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” Commonwealth v. Kirwan, 448 Mass. 304, 319 (2007). See Commonwealth v. Fernette, 398 Mass. 658, 670–671 n.23 (1986) (“We recognize that jurors may return verdicts which do not comport with the judge’s instructions. We do not accept the premise that jurors have a right to nullify the law on which they are instructed by the judge, or that the judge must inform them of their power.”). Counsel should avoid any reference to the appellate process. Commonwealth v. Finstein, 426 Mass. 200, 205 n.1 (1997).
Subsection (b)(4). In criminal cases, the trial judge may defer resolution of a defendant’s motion for a mistrial made during closing argument until after the jury returns a verdict. Commonwealth v. Brangan, 475 Mass. at 148. In civil cases, where a party objects to a closing argument and moves for a mistrial, “a motion for a mistrial must be decided when made.” Fitzpatrick v. Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers of N.Y., Inc., 487 Mass. at 508. However, “after a jury verdict, the appropriate vehicle to be used in seeking to have a case tried again is through a motion for a new trial.” Id.
Subsection (c). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Johnson, 374 Mass. 453, 458 (1978) (“[W]here an improper argument is addressed to a jury the attention of the judge should be called to it at once.”), and Commonwealth v. Beaudry, 445 Mass. 577, 587 (2005) (timely objection to improper closing argument followed by “focused, particularized [curative] instructions” is not sufficient to preserve for appeal the issue of adequacy of the curative instructions). See Harlow v. Chin, 405 Mass. 697, 706 (1989) (counsel must bring alleged errors and omissions in curative instruction to judge’s attention at end of charge).
Subsection (d). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Jasilewicz, 361 Mass. 877, 877 (1972); Commonwealth v. Witschi, 301 Mass. 459, 462 (1938); O'Neill v. Ross, 250 Mass. 92, 96–97 (1924); Posell v. Herscovitz, 237 Mass. 513, 514–515 (1921); and Commonwealth v. Truong, 34 Mass. App. Ct. 668, 671 (1993). Judges "have the inherent power to do whatever may be done under the general principles of jurisprudence to insure to the citizen a fair trial" Beit v. Probate & Family Ct. Dep’t, 385 Mass. 854, 859 (1982). See also Commonwealth v. Pearce, 427 Mass. 642, 646 (1998) (trial judges have authority to interrupt “any argument” not “based solely on the evidence and all inferences therefrom”); Commonwealth v. Cabot, 241 Mass. 131, 150–151 (1922) (“duty of the judge to emphasize the fact that the argument [by the prosecutor] had been grossly improper, to point out in plain, unmistakable language the particulars in which it was unwarranted and to instruct the jury to cast aside in their deliberations the improper considerations that had been presented to them”); Rolanti v. Boston Edison Corp., 33 Mass. App. Ct. 516, 529 (1992) (“It is well established under our practice that a trial judge must take ‘rigorous and emphatic action’ to counteract prejudicial statements made in front of the jury.”). A judge has “considerable latitude” in the “choice of methods” to correct improper argument. Commonwealth v. Watson, 377 Mass. 814, 823 (1979), quoting Commonwealth v. Clark, 3 Mass. App. Ct. 481, 488 (1975). See Commonwealth v. Montecalvo, 367 Mass. 46, 56 (1975) (judge may guard against improper arguments by stopping counsel, instructing jury to disregard such an argument, or by combining both methods). Nonetheless, judges must take care not to chill or defeat zealous advocacy when fulfilling their duties to “protect the processes of orderly trial.” Sussman v. Commonwealth, 374 Mass. 692, 696–697 (1978). See also Commonwealth v. Cutty, 47 Mass. App. Ct. 671, 675–676 (1999) (judge must not prevent party from making relevant arguments that are based on evidence and fair inferences from evidence).
Responses to Improper Argument. For examples of proper responses to improper argument, see Gath v. M/A-Com, Inc., 440 Mass. 482, 495 (2003) (judge’s instruction sufficient to correct improper argument on damages); Rivera v. Club Caravan, Inc., 77 Mass. App. Ct. 17, 21 (2010) (trial judge was appropriately specific and forceful in instructing jury to disregard reference in opening statement to blood alcohol level that would not be admitted in evidence); Salter v. Leventhal, 337 Mass. 679, 697–98 (1958); and Hart v. Morris & Co., 259 Mass. 211, 215 (1927). In contrast, a judge may not limit closing arguments to the line of thought that the judge believes will prevail or is most consistent with the evidence. O’Driscoll v. Lynn & Boston R.R., 180 Mass. 187, 190 (1902).
Preventative Measures. There are several practical steps that judges may take to minimize the risk of error in closing arguments. One practice is to conduct a pre–closing argument conference to address the boundary lines of proper argument and any questions counsel may have. Commonwealth v. Finstein, 426 Mass. 200, 205 n.1 (1997). A judge also may wish to give a cautionary instruction to the jury before closing argument. See Commonwealth v. Olmande, 84 Mass. App. Ct. 231, 239–243 (2013) (Agnes, J., concurring) (“the risk of improper closing arguments would be reduced if this practice became a matter of routine”).
Section 1114. Restitution
(a) Nature and extent of remedy
Restitution is a judicially determined penalty in the form of money or services imposed against the defendant in a criminal case or a juvenile in a delinquency case for the benefit of the victim of a crime. A judge may order restitution as a condition of probation provided that the judge finds, or the parties, in consultation with the probation department, agree, that (1) the victim has suffered economic loss that is causally related to the defendant’s criminal conduct, (2) the award does not exceed the victim’s economic loss, and (3) the defendant has the ability to pay the money or perform the services.
(b) Procedural requirements
The defendant has the right to counsel and the right to be heard at a restitution hearing. Cross-examination of the victim is limited to the issue of restitution and does not extend to matters concerning guilt or innocence. Hearsay is admissible, but an award of restitution cannot rest entirely on unsubstantiated and unreliable hearsay. The Commonwealth has the burden of proving both a causal connection between the crime and the victim’s economic loss and the amount of the loss by a preponderance of the evidence.
(c) Judicial determination
The amount of restitution ordered by the court must be based on evidence presented to the court or on a stipulation by the parties. The judge must determine (1) the amount of actual economic loss proved, (2) the appropriate length of the probation period, and (3) the defendant’s maximum monthly ability to pay. The defendant bears the burden of proving an inability to pay.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Henry, 475 Mass. 117 (2016); Commonwealth v. Denehy, 466 Mass. 723 (2014); Commonwealth v. McIntyre, 436 Mass. 829 (2002); Commonwealth v. Malick, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 174 (2014); and Commonwealth v. Avram A., 83 Mass. App. Ct. 208 (2013). See also G. L. c. 258B, § 1 (defining restitution as “money or services which a court orders a defendant to pay or render to a victim as part of the disposition”). Restitution is an “entirely judicially determined penalty” that is separate and distinct from “punishments such as imprisonment and fines that are accompanied by statutory prescriptions.” Denehy, 466 Mass. at 737. There is no right to trial by jury in connection with an order for restitution. Commonwealth v. Nawn, 394 Mass. 1, 8–9 (1985).
In Commonwealth v. McIntyre, the court explained that to establish a nexus between the defendant’s criminal conduct and the victim’s loss, the Commonwealth must prove that the “loss . . . is causally connected to the offense and bears a significant relationship to the offense. . . . [W]e look to the underlying facts of the charged offense, not the name of the crime [of which the defendant was convicted or] to which the defendant entered a plea.” McIntyre, 436 Mass. at 835. The court’s power to award restitution in criminal cases is “unquestionable” and derives from a judge’s power to order conditions of probation under G. L. c. 276, §§ 87 and 87A, and G. L. c. 279, § 1. Denehy, 466 Mass. at 737. In Denehy, the Supreme Judicial Court rejected the argument that the constitutional principle that requires that certain factual determinations relating to sentencing must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt does not apply to an award of restitution. Id. at 737–738. Restitution may not be ordered to reward anyone or to create an incentive for the dismissal of criminal charges. Commonwealth v. Rotonda, 434 Mass. 211, 221 (2001). Cf. G. L. c. 276, § 55 (accord and satisfaction). Restitution may be ordered as a condition of probation in the case of a conviction or a continuance without a finding. Rotonda, 434 Mass. at 221–222. An order of restitution is distinct from an order that the defendant pay the costs of the prosecution. See G. L. c. 280, § 6 (all such payments go to the Commonwealth not the victim). It is not necessary that the victim of a crime file a claim with an insurer to be eligible for restitution. Commonwealth v. Williams, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 917 (2003) (rescript).
The nexus between the defendant’s criminal conduct and the economic loss suffered by the victim does not require proof of every element of each crime with which the defendant is charged. Instead, the Commonwealth must establish “a significant causal relationship” between the facts admitted by the defendant or that form the basis of the conviction and the economic losses suffered by the victim. See Denehy, 466 Mass. at 723 (There was a sufficient nexus between the defendant’s conviction for assault by means of a dangerous weapon and disorderly conduct and damage to the eyeglasses of the police officer attacked by the defendant even though the defendant was found not guilty of the charge of assault and battery on a police officer.); McIntyre, 436 Mass. at 835 (sufficient causal relationship between damage to victim’s automobile and defendant’s conviction for stabbing the victim because, after stabbing, defendant returned to scene and set his dog on victim; eventually, as victim retreated to his car to avoid ongoing assault, defendant kicked victim’s car door and fender.); Commonwealth v. Palmer P., 61 Mass. App. Ct. 230, 232 (2004) (Although the juvenile was found not delinquent of larceny, the facts related to the delinquency finding on the charge of breaking and entering during the daytime with intent to commit a felony was sufficient to support an order for restitution to the victim in the amount of $1,000 for the loss of his personal property.). But see Commonwealth v. Casanova, 65 Mass. App. Ct. 750, 750 (2006) (The evidence was not sufficient to establish a causal relationship between the victim’s injuries as a result of being struck in the face and stomach by the defendant and the victim’s decision one month later to withdraw from college, which caused him to incur a loss of $8,046 in tuition he had paid, although the court indicated that medical expenses, court-related travel expenses, property loss and damage, lost pay, and lost vacation days required to be used to attend court might be compensable as restitution.).
The Commonwealth must prove that the defendant’s criminal conduct is the cause in fact of the victim’s economic loss, and that such loss was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s conduct. Negligent acts of the victim or a third party that occur after the defendant’s criminal conduct do not necessarily break the causal connection between the defendant’s criminal conduct and the victim’s economic loss underlying an order of restitution. Commonwealth v. Buckley, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 177, 184 (2016) (due to miscommunication, victim was not notified for several months that police had recovered his vehicle and in interim had purchased replacement vehicle; negligence by third party did not break causal connection). Further, a judge has the power to order restitution to a third party. See Commonwealth v. McGann, 484 Mass. 312, 327–328 (2020) (judge properly exercised discretion to order defendant to pay restitution to victim’s mother where mother paid for victim’s medically related care incurred as direct result of defendant’s actions).
In Commonwealth v. Avram A., 83 Mass. App. Ct. 208 (2013), an order to pay restitution in the amount of $1,063.78 against a twelve-year-old juvenile who had admitted to sufficient facts for a delinquency finding was upheld, along with an order extending the juvenile’s probation as a sanction for nonpayment of the restitution. The public policy of the Commonwealth favors the award of restitution to victims of crime “to the greatest extent possible.” G. L. c. 258B, § 3 . “There is no question that restitution is an appropriate consideration in a criminal sentencing.” Commonwealth v. Nawn, 394 Mass. 1, 6 (1985), citing Novelty Bias Binding Co. v. Shevrin, 342 Mass. 714, 717 (1961). See also G. L. c. 276, § 92A (providing that upon conviction of any one of enumerated offenses, defendant is required to pay restitution “for any financial loss sustained by the victim of his crime, his dependents or an insurer”).
Subsection (b). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Denehy, 466 Mass. 723 (2014); Commonwealth v. Nawn, 394 Mass. 1, 6–8 (1985); and Commonwealth v. Casanova, 65 Mass. App. Ct. 750, 755–756 (2006). See Commonwealth v. Avram A., 83 Mass. App. Ct. 208 (2013) (in case involving two incidents of tagging, upholding restitution order based in part on estimates of cost of repairs made by examining photographs of damage); Commonwealth v. Williams, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 917 (2003) (rescript) (repair cost estimates by various vendors for damage to glass in building and vehicle rather than actual costs for repairs was sufficient to support award of restitution). The victim has the right to assistance from the prosecutor in documenting and obtaining restitution. See G. L. c. 258B, § 3(e) . The prosecutor may offer testimony from the victim and expert witness testimony.
There is no right to a trial by jury in connection with an order for restitution. Nawn, 394 Mass. at 8–9.
Strict evidentiary rules are not imposed at a restitution hearing. Commonwealth v. Molina, 476 Mass. 388, 407 (2017). The defendant has a presumptive right to call witnesses, but the trial judge has the discretionary authority not to require a victim to testify, and to preclude the defendant from calling the victim as a witness, if the judge determines that the interest of insulating the victim from further trauma overcomes the defendant’s presumptive right to call the victim.
“In particular, in determining whether the countervailing interests overcome the presumption after considering the totality of the circumstances, the judge conducting a restitution hearing should consider whether, based on an individualized assessment of the proposed witness, there is an unacceptable risk that the witness’s physical, psychological, or emotional health would be significantly jeopardized if the witness were required to testify in court at the probation hearing.”
Id. at 407–408.
Subsection (c). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Henry, 475 Mass. 117 (2016). The Commonwealth bears the burden of proving that the victim’s actual economic loss is causally connected to defendant’s crime by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 121. The length of probation supervision imposed at the time of the sentence should not be based on the financial ability of the defendant but on the amount that will serve the dual goals of rehabilitation and protection of the public. Id. at 125. If the only basis for imposing probation is to collect restitution, the period of probation may be only for a brief period of time, thirty or sixty days. Id. at 125 n.8. Factors to be considered in determining the defendant’s ability to pay are the financial resources of the defendant, including income and net assets, and defendant’s financial obligations such as food, shelter, and clothing for the defendant and any dependents. Id. at 126. A payment order made as a condition of probation may not “cause a defendant a substantial financial hardship.” Id. at 127. Restitution as a condition of probation is established at the monthly amount the defendant is able to pay multiplied by the number of months of probation, but no more than the actual economic loss. Id. at 125. Where the victim is a retailer, economic loss is based on the wholesale, not retail, price, unless the Commonwealth proves the items “would have been sold were they not stolen.” Id. at 129.
Probation can be revoked or extended only upon a finding that the failure to pay the restitution amount was willful and that there was an ability to pay. Id. at 121. There can be no finding of a willful failure to pay where payment would cause substantial financial hardship to the defendant or any dependants. Commonwealth v. Bruno-O’Leary, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 44, 48 (2018). The probationer bears the burden of proof with respect to inability to pay as a defense in probation violation proceedings. Id. at 49.
Refund if Conviction Is Invalidated. Where a conviction has been invalidated and it is determined that the case will not or cannot be retried, due process requires a refund of restitution payments (as well as certain other payments) made by the defendant. Commonwealth v. Martinez, 480 Mass. 777, 785 (2018), citing Nelson v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 1249, 1258 (2017). Because the only restitution ordered in Martinez was paid to a police department and refunded to the defendant, the Supreme Judicial Court expressly postponed deciding whether Nelson requires the Commonwealth to refund restitution paid by the defendant to a private victim.
Section 1115. Evidentiary issues in care and protection, child custody, and termination of parental rights cases
(a) General rule
Evidence in child custody and child protective cases, both parental unfitness and termination of parental rights (TPR) proceedings, is admissible according to the rules of the common law and the Massachusetts General Laws.
(b) Official/public records and reports
(1) Probation Records, Including Criminal Activity Record Information (CARI)
Adult probation records, including CARI, are official records that are admissible as evidence of a parent’s character. Juvenile delinquency probation records are inadmissible in care and protection cases by operation of statute.
(2) Department of Children and Families (DCF) Records and Reports
(A) G. L. c. 119, § 51A, Reports. Section 51A reports are admissible for the limited purpose of setting the stage.
(B) DCF Action Plans, Affidavits, Foster Care Review Reports, Case Review Re-ports, Family Assessments, Dictation Notes, and G. L. c. 119, § 51B, Investigation Reports. First- and second-level hearsay in official DCF records that do not fall within an existing common-law or statutory hearsay exception are admissible for statements of primary fact if the hearsay source is specifically identified and is available for cross-examination, should the party challenging the evidence request it. Statements of opinion, conclusions, and judgments contained in these official records are not admissible.
(3) Drug and Alcohol Treatment Records
Drug and alcohol treatment records are confidential under State and Federal law. Such records may, however, be released to the parties by judicial order after application showing good cause therefor, including the need to avert a substantial risk of death or serious bodily harm, which specifically includes incidents of suspected child abuse and neglect.
(4) School Records
School records generally are admissible as official records, with the exception of records of clinical history and evaluations of students with special needs.
(5) Police Reports
Police reports regarding police responses are admissible as business records insofar as the report is a record of the police officers’ firsthand observations. Opinions and evaluations are not admissible. Hearsay statements within the report generally are not admissible unless the statement satisfies another hearsay exception.
(c) Written court reports
(1) Court Investigation Reports
Written reports of court-appointed investigators are admissible.
(2) Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Reports
Written guardian ad litem reports may properly be admitted into evidence and are entitled to such weight as the court sees fit to give them.
(3) Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Reports
Written CASA reports may properly be admitted into evidence and are entitled to such weight as the court sees fit to give them.
(4) Court-Ordered Psychiatric, Psychological, and Court Clinic Evaluation Reports
Written psychiatric, psychological, and Court Clinic evaluation reports generally are not admissible in evidence.
(d) Children’s out-of-court statements
(1) Statements Not Related to Sexual Abuse
Out-of-court statements made by children that are not related to sexual abuse are admissible if they fall within an established exception to the hearsay rule or are offered for a nonhearsay purpose.
(2) Statements Related to Sexual Abuse
(A) Cases Involving TPR. An out-of-court statement of a child under the age of ten describing any act of sexual contact performed on or with the child, the circumstances under which it occurred, or the identity of the perpetrator offered in any civil proceeding except those under G. L. c. 119, § 23(a)(3) or § 24, is admissible, provided that the statement is offered as evidence of a material fact and is more probative on the point for which it is offered than any other evidence that the proponent can procure through reasonable efforts, that the person to whom the statement was made or who heard the child make the statement testifies, that the court finds that the child is “unavailable” as a witness, and that the court finds the statement to be reliable.
(B) Custody Proceedings Not Involving TPR. An out-of-court statement of a child under the age of ten describing any act of sexual contact performed on or with the child, the circumstances under which it occurred, or the identity of the perpetrator offered in an action under G. L. c. 119, § 23(a)(3) or § 24, is admissible, provided that the person to whom the statement was made or who heard the statement testifies, that the judge finds that the statement is offered as evidence of a material fact and is more probative on the point for which it is offered than any other evidence that the proponent can procure through reasonable effort, and that the judge finds the statement to be reliable.
Children may testify in care and protection and TPR proceedings if the court determines, after consultation with the child’s attorney, that the child is competent and willing to do so. Children may testify in child custody proceedings in Probate and Family Court at the discretion of the judge.
(2) Foster/Preadoptive Parents
Foster parents and preadoptive parents have the right to attend care and protection trials and to be heard, subject to the usual evidentiary rules, but are not parties to care and protection or TPR proceedings.
(3) Parents Called by Adverse Party
A parent may be called as a witness by an opposing party. An adverse party who calls the parent as a witness may question the parent witness according to the rules of cross-examination.
(4) Social Workers
A licensed social worker or social worker employed by a government agency may be called as a witness by any party. An adverse party who calls the social worker may question the social worker according to the rules of cross-examination. Regarding communications between a social worker and a client that are privileged under State law, the social worker may testify to any such communication that bears significantly on the client’s ability to provide suitable care or custody if the court first determines (1) that the social worker has such evidence, (2) that it is more important to the welfare of the child that the communication be disclosed than that the social worker–client relationship be preserved, and, if a TPR case, (3) that the patient has been informed that any such disclosure would not be privileged.
Psychotherapists may be called as witnesses in care and protection and TPR proceedings regarding disclosures by a patient that bear significantly on the patient’s ability to provide suitable care and custody if the patient attempts to exercise the privilege at trial and the court then determines (1) that the psychotherapist has such evidence, (2) that it is more important to the welfare of the child that the information be disclosed than that the psychotherapist-patient relationship be preserved, and, if a TPR case, (3) that the patient has been informed that any such disclosure would not be privileged.
(6) Court-Appointed Investigators and G. L. c. 119, § 51B, Investigators
Court-appointed investigators appointed pursuant to G. L. c. 119, § 24, and investigators assigned to investigate G. L. c. 119, § 51A, reports pursuant to G. L. c. 119, § 51B, may be called as witnesses by any party for examination regarding the information contained in any such investigation report.
Opinion testimony by persons qualified by the court as experts is admissible if it is based on scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge that will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact at issue.
(f) Other evidence
(1) Adoption Plans
Adoption plans prepared by the DCF are admissible.
(2) Bonding and Attachment Studies
Written reports of bonding and attachment studies are inadmissible. Evidence relevant to any such bonding and attachment study may be the subject of testimony from the evaluator.
(3) Judicial Findings From Prior Proceedings
Judicial findings from prior proceedings may be admissible if the findings are relevant, timely, and material.
(4) Past Parental Conduct.
Past parental conduct may be relevant to the issue of current parental fitness if not too remote.
(g) Adverse inference from a party’s failure to appear
The court may draw an adverse inference against a party who has received notice and fails to appear, without good cause, at trial, as long as a case adverse to the nontestifying party has been presented.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 119, § 21A . Cross-Reference: Section 103, Rulings on Evidence, Objections, and Offers of Proof.
Subsection (b). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Slavski, 245 Mass. 405, 415 (1923).
Subsection (b)(1). This subsection is derived from Adoption of Irwin, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 41, 43 (1989), and G. L. c. 276, § 100 . Probation records, including CARI, are records of the court system and are by statute available for use by the courts of the Commonwealth. Adoption of Irwin, 28 Mass. App. Ct. at 43. It is unnecessary to qualify probation records as business records because they are admissible as official records. Id. While not necessarily conclusive, a parent’s criminal record, as well as observations of the parent's criminal conduct, are relevant as to the issue of parental fitness. Care & Protection of Frank, 409 Mass. 492, 495 (1991). “An adjudication of any child as a delinquent child . . . or any disposition thereunder . . . shall not be received in evidence or used against such child for any purpose in any proceedings in any court except in subsequent delinquency or criminal proceedings against the same person.” G. L. c. 119, § 60 .
Cross-Reference: Note to Section 405(b), Methods of Proving Character: By Specific Instances of Conduct.
Subsection (b)(2)(A). A “Section 51A report” is a report filed with the DCF that “details suspected child abuse or neglect.” G. L. c. 119, § 21 . Such reports are admissible to “set the stage,” i.e., to explain the reasons for the filing of the petition. Care & Protection of Inga, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 660, 663–664 (1994), quoting Custody of Michel, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 260, 267 (1990). Competent evidence regarding an incident that was the subject of an unsubstantiated Section 51A report may be admitted at trial against a parent as long as the evidence is “sufficient to convey to a high degree of probability that the proposition is true.” Adoption of Rhona I, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 479, 484 (2003), quoting Adoption of Iris, 43 Mass. App. Ct. 95, 105 (1997).
Subsection (b)(2)(B). This subsection is derived from Adoption of Luc, 484 Mass. 139 (2020), and Adoption of George, 27 Mass. App. Ct. 265 (1989). First- and second-level hearsay in official DCF records in care and protection cases
“that does not fall within an already existing common-law or statutory hearsay exception is admissible for statements of primary fact, so long as the hearsay source is specifically identified in the report and is available for cross-examination, should the party challenging the evidence requests to do so. If the source is not already in court, the party challenging the evidence may subpoena him or her.”
Adoption of Luc, 484 Mass. at 154.
“‘Primary fact’ is not a self-defining phrase, but at least connotes facts which can be recorded without recourse to discretion and judgment, e.g., the fire alarm sounded at 10:30 p.m.; it was raining lightly at the time of the accident; the child was placed with Mr. and Mrs. Doe . . . .” Adoption of George, 27 Mass. App. Ct. at 274. The exclusion of expressions of opinion, evaluation, or judgment from official records is a “practical working rule” that has exceptions. Id. at 272. “More leeway” relative to admissibility may be given to material that “smacks of opinion,” if the source of the opinion is available for cross-examination. Id. at 274.
Service plans are admissible under a statutory exception to the hearsay rule under G. L. c. 119, § 29.
A private entity’s assessment or a case review, performed under a contract with the DCF, is admissible in the same manner as an official record prepared by the DCF, because the private entity was required to prepare the document as an agent of the DCF. Adoption of Vidal, 56 Mass. App. Ct. 916, 917 (2002).
While pleadings are not evidence under G. L. c. 231, § 87, DCF affidavits submitted in support of care and protection petitions are admissible in care and protection proceedings to the extent that the source of any first- and second-level hearsay contained therein is specifically identified in the document and available for cross-examination if requested by the party challenging the evidence. Care & Protection of Doretta, 101 Mass. App. Ct. 584, 590–591 (2022).
Subsection (b)(3). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 111B, § 11 (alcoholism treatment records); G. L. c. 111E, § 18(drug rehabilitation treatment records); and 42 U.S.C. § 290dd-2 (substance abuse treatment records). Federal regulations require that, before issuing an order for release of these records to one or more parties, the court must determine that “disclosure [of the information] is necessary to protect against an existing threat to life or of serious bodily injury, including circumstances which constitute suspected child abuse and neglect and verbal threats against third parties [(among other things)].” 42 C.F.R. § 2.63(a)(1)-(3) . Orders of appointment issued to court-appointed investigators do not satisfy the requirements of State and Federal law and therefore do not permit the court investigator to obtain drug and alcohol treatment records where the specific factual determination necessary for release of these records has not been made by the appointing judge.
Cross-Reference: Introductory Note (f)(5) to Article V, Privileges and Disqualifications.
Subsection (b)(4). This subsection is derived from Introductory Note (f)(2) and (f)(3) to Article V, Privileges and Disqualifications. There is no privilege preventing the introduction of relevant school records in evidence at trial, and most school records are admissible as official records. See Introductory Note (f)(2) to Article V, Privileges and Disqualifications (student records). Records of the clinical history and evaluations of students with special needs, created or maintained in accordance with G. L. c. 71B, are confidential but not privileged. G. L. c. 71B, § 3 . See Introductory Note (f)(3) (special needs student records) and Introductory Note (d) (confidentiality versus privilege) to Article V, Privileges and Disqualifications.
Subsection (b)(5). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 233, § 78 . See Adoption of Paula, 420 Mass. 716, 727 (1995); Julian v. Randazzo, 380 Mass. 391 (1980). Besides the ordinary business records hearsay exception, there is an additional business records exception permitting second-level hearsay where the proponent of a hearsay statement shows “that all persons in the chain of communication, from the observer to the preparer, reported the information as a matter of business duty or business routine.” Irwin v. Town of Ware, 392 Mass. 745, 749 (1984), quoting Wingate v. Emery Air Freight Corp., 385 Mass. 402, 406 (1982).
Cross-Reference: Section 803(6)(A), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Business and Hospital Records: Entry, Writing, or Record Made in Regular Course of Business .
Subsection (c). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 119, §§ 21A and 24.
Subsection (c)(1). By the express terms of G. L. c. 119, § 24, investigators’ reports are admissible and become part of the record in care and protection cases. Care & Protection of Zita, 455 Mass. 272, 281 (2009), citing Custody of Michel, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 260, 265 (1990). As set forth in G. L. c. 119, § 21A, “[t]he person reporting may be called as a witness by any party for examination as to the statements made in the report.” Hearsay statements, including multilevel hearsay, contained within the reports, including opinions, clinical observations, and recommendations, are admissible probatively as long as the declarant is identifiable and the parties have a fair opportunity to rebut the statements of both the investigator and any sources on which the investigator relied through cross-examination or other means. Care & Protection of Zita, 455 Mass. at 281; Gilmore v. Gilmore, 369 Mass. 598, 604–605 (1976); Adoption of Astrid, 45 Mass. App. Ct. 538, 546 (1998). This principle applies to hearsay statements of children against their parents that are contained in investigators’ reports. Care & Protection of Inga, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 660, 664 (1994). “When a judge appoints an investigator under G. L. c. 119, § 24, it signifies the judge’s expectation that the [investigator] has the training and specialized knowledge which will enable the [investigator] to make and report acute observations about the interactions of family members, and their respective mental conditions.” Custody of Michel, 28 Mass. App. Ct. at 266. Opinions of the court investigator as to the credibility of another witness (including the credibility of any source) are not admissible. Commonwealth v. Triplett, 398 Mass. 561, 567 (1986) (“[I]t is a fundamental principle that ‘a witness cannot be asked to assess the credibility of his testimony or that of other witnesses’” [citation omitted].).
Subsection (c)(2). Guardian ad litem (GAL) reports are analogous to court investigator reports in that hearsay, including multilevel hearsay, generally is admissible. See the Note to Subsection (c)(1) above and Adoption of Sean, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 261, 263 (1994). Guardian ad litem reports containing hearsay information are admissible, including multilevel hearsay and clinical evaluations, if the guardian ad litem is available to testify at trial and the source of the material is sufficiently identified so that the affected party has an opportunity to rebut any adverse or erroneous material contained therein. Adoption of Sean, 36 Mass. App. Ct. at 264. Adoption of Sean leaves open the question whether expert opinions contained in GAL reports are admissible. Id. It is “sound practice” for the judge to give notice to the parties if the judge intends to use the report. See Duro v. Duro, 392 Mass. 574, 575 (1984) (like guardian ad litem reports, reports of probation officers in the Probate and Family Court made pursuant to G. L. c. 276, § 85B, must be in writing and subject to cross-examination).
Subsection (c)(3). A CASA is analogous to a guardian ad litem. Adoption of Georgia, 433 Mass. 62, 68 (2000). See the Note to Subsection (c)(2) above. For a CASA report to be admitted into evidence, including reports containing multilevel hearsay, the CASA must be available to testify at trial, and the sources of the information contained in the report must be sufficiently identified so that the affected party has an opportunity to rebut. Id. at 68–69. A CASA is not automatically qualified to file a report containing the CASA’s expert opinions or to testify as an expert simply by being a CASA. Rather, when an objection is made regarding a CASA’s qualifications to render an expert opinion, the court must determine whether the CASA is qualified to do so. Id. at 68 n.6. Expressions of opinion of mental health professionals (including the CASA if so qualified) in a CASA report are not admissible, but factual observations and information contained in clinical evaluations may be admissible and entitled to whatever weight the judge may give them. Adoption of Sean, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 261, 264 (1994).
Subsection (c)(4). Written court-ordered psychiatric evaluation reports are inadmissible. Adoption of Seth, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 343, 351–352 (1990). Although those who conduct psychological evaluations, including psychological evaluations that are court ordered, may testify in care and protection and TPR proceedings (see Subsections [e], , and  below), there is no exception to the hearsay rule pertaining to written reports of such evaluations.
Cross-Reference: Section 503(d)(2), Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege: Exceptions: Court-Ordered Psychiatric Exam; Section 503(d)(5), Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege: Exceptions: Child Custody and Adoption Cases.
Subsection (d)(1). This subsection is derived from Custody of Michel, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 260, 267 (1990) and Custody of Jennifer, 25 Mass. App. Ct. 241, 243 (1988). Children’s out-of-court statements are not admissible for the truth of the matter asserted, but expressed preferences regarding where they want to live, are admissible insofar as the statements reflect the mental state of the children at the time. A child’s state of mind is often a material issue in child custody cases. Custody of Michel, 28 Mass. App. Ct. at 267; Custody of Jennifer, 25 Mass. App. Ct. at 243. A child’s out-of-court hearsay statement made to an expert witness may also be admissible, not for the truth of the matter asserted, but rather to indicate the basis of an expert opinion given by the witness. Custody of Michel, 28 Mass. App. Ct. at 267. See Mass. G. Evid. § 705. Similarly, a child’s statement may be admissible when used for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Custody of Michel, 28 Mass. App. Ct. at 268.
A child’s extrajudicial statement concerning a parent is not admissible as an admission by a party-opponent against that parent. Care & Protection of Sophie, 449 Mass. 100, 110 (2007); Mass. G. Evid. § 801(d)(2).
With respect to a child’s privileged communications to a social worker or psychotherapist, exceptions exist that permit such statements to be admitted in certain circumstances. See Mass. G. Evid. § § 503(d), 507(c). Children’s out-of-court statements to court-appointed investigators are admissible where there is “an opportunity to refute the investigator and the investigator’s sources through cross-examination and other means.” Custody of Michel, 28 Mass. App. Ct. at 266. The child’s parent must be allowed the opportunity to effectively rebut such hearsay when the child does not testify and the trial judge has no other means by which to assess the credibility and accuracy of the child’s statements. Id.
Subsection (d)(2). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 233, §§ 82 and 83 . Cross-Reference: Section 503(d)(5), Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege: Exceptions: Child Custody and Adoption Cases; Section 803(24), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Out-of-Court Statement of Child Describing Sexual Contact in Proceeding to Place Child in Foster Care.
Subsection (d)(2)(A). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 233, § 82 . “Child under the age of ten” refers to the age of the child at the time the out-of-court statements were made, not the age of the child at the time of trial. Adoption of Daisy, 460 Mass. 72, 78–79 (2011). The following procedures must be utilized in Section 82 proceedings: (1) the DCF must give prior notice to the parent of their intention to introduce a child’s out-of-court statements regarding alleged sexual abuse; (2) the DCF must show by more than a mere preponderance of the evidence that a compelling need exists for use of such a procedure; (3) any separate hearing regarding the reliability of the child’s out-of-court statements must be on the record; (4) specific findings must be issued that present the basis upon which the reliability of the statements was determined; and (5) independently admitted evidence must be presented that corroborates the out-of-court statements. See Mass. G. Evid. § 804(b)(9); Adoption of Quentin, 424 Mass. 882, 892 (1997); Adoption of Olivette, 79 Mass. App. Ct. 141, 147 (2011), quoting Adoption of Arnold, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 743, 752 (2001). A judge who presides over a Section 82 hearing is not necessarily disqualified from presiding over a subsequent trial related to the hearing. Adoption of Iliana, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 397, 406–407 (2019).
Cross-Reference: Section 804(b)(9), Hearsay Exceptions; Declarant Unavailable: The Exceptions: Out-of-Court Statement of Child Describing Sexual Contact in Civil Proceeding, Including Termination of Parental Rights.
Subsection (d)(2)(B). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 233, § 83 . See Section 803(24), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Out-of-Court Statement of Child Describing Sexual Contact in Proceeding to Place Child in Foster Care. Where a care and protection case is joined with a TPR proceeding, the hearing should comply with the stricter requirements of G. L. c. 233, § 82 . Adoption of Tina, 45 Mass. App. Ct. 727, 733 (1998).
Subsection (e)(1). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 119, § 21A, and G. L. c. 233, § 20 . Every person is competent to be a witness, unless excepted by statute or common law. This includes children of all ages who (1) have the ability to observe, remember, and give expression to that which they have seen, heard, or experienced and (2) have an understanding sufficient to comprehend the difference between truth and falsehood, their duty to tell the truth, that lying is wrong, and that failure to tell the truth will result in punishment. Mass. G. Evid. § 601(b). In care and protection and termination of parental rights proceedings, “[evidence] may include the testimony of the child if the court determines that the child is competent and willing, after consultation with counsel, if any, to testify.” G. L. c. 119, § 21A (emphasis supplied). See Abbot v. Virusso, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 326, 337–338 (2007) (upholding judicial discretion regarding competency of child witnesses and discussing issues concerning in-camera interviews with children). An order limiting the parties’ access to, or participation in, any portion of the proceedings must be narrowly tailored to the particular protection required in the circumstances, which must be explained by the judge and supported by explicit findings. Adoption of Roni, 56 Mass. App. Ct. 52, 57 (2001) (exclusion of parents from courtroom to accommodate traumatized child’s testimony); Adoption of Tina, 45 Mass. App. Ct. 727, 735 (1998) (in-camera hearing of traumatized child’s testimony).
Cross-Reference: Section 601, Competency.
Subsection (e)(2). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 119, § 29D . Foster and preadoptive parents have a statutory right to testify at trial. Such testimony must be taken as any other witness’s, under oath and subject to cross-examination. Adoption of Sherry, 435 Mass. 331, 337 (2001).
Subsection (e)(3). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 233, § 22. Absent a valid assertion of a Fifth Amendment privilege, a parent may be required to testify in care and protection and TPR proceedings. Adoption of Salvatore, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 929, 930 (2003). The burden is on the party asserting the Fifth Amendment privilege to establish its existence. Commonwealth v. Brennan, 386 Mass. 772, 780 (1982). Negative inferences may be drawn against a party who asserts the privilege. See Care & Protection of Sharlene, 445 Mass. 756, 767 (2006). See also Mass. G. Evid. § 511. Whether to draw the adverse inference is a matter within the discretion of the judge, who should take into consideration all of the circumstances. See Adoption of Talik, 92 Mass. App. Ct. 367, 372 (2017).
Subsection (e)(4). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 112, §§ 135, 135A,and 135B .
General Laws c.112, § 135A, requires that from the initial phase of the professional relationship, a licensed social worker or social worker employed by a government agency shall inform the client about the confidential nature of their communications and not disclose any information acquired or revealed from the client except, inter alia, in the initiation of, or to give testimony in connection with, a proceeding under G. L. c. 119, § 24, to commit a child facing abuse or neglect to the custody of the department or agency, or to transfer custody by way of an emergency order, or to dispense with the need for consent to adoption of the child in the care or custody of the department or agency. G. L. c. 112, § 135A(e).
In any court proceeding or preliminary proceeding thereto, G.L. c. 112, § 135B, creates a privilege enabling a client to refuse to disclose, or prevent a witness from disclosing, any communication between the client and the social worker relative to the diagnosis or treatment of the client’s mental or emotional condition. The exception to the privilege in this subsection is taken nearly verbatim from G. L. c. 112, § 135B(e), (f), and (g) .
Cross-Reference: Section 104, Preliminary Questions; Section 507, Social Worker-Client Privilege.
Subsection (e)(5). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 233, § 20B . See Section 503(a) for definitions of “psychotherapist,” “patient,” and “communications,” and Section 503(b) and (d) for descriptions of, and exceptions to, the privilege. See also Commonwealth v. Lamb, 365 Mass. 265, 270 (1974). Because the privilege is not self-executing, the patient must attempt to assert it during the trial. Adoption of Carla, 416 Mass. 510, 515 (1993).
Cross-Reference: Introductory Note to Article V, Privileges and Disqualifications; Section 503, Psychotherapist- Patient Privilege.
Subsection (e)(6). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 119, § 21A .
Subsection (e)(7). This subsection is modeled after Sections 702, 703, and 705 . Massachusetts law, unlike Federal law, allows expert opinion on the ultimate issue. Mass. G. Evid. § 704. Expert testimony that simply “vouches” for the credibility of other witnesses, opines as to whether a child told the truth, makes legal conclusions, or renders an opinion within the common understanding of the trier of fact is inadmissible. See Mass. G. Evid. § 704. See also Care & Protection of Rebecca, 419 Mass. 67, 83 (1994); Adoption of Olivette, 79 Mass. App. Ct. 141, 152 (2011).
Cross-Reference: Section 702, Testimony by Expert Witnesses.
Subsection (f)(1). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 210, § 3(c). Section 3(c) requires the court to consider the adoption plan by the DCF, which plan need not be in writing but may be presented to the court through testimony. Adoption of Stuart, 39 Mass. App. Ct. 380, 393–394 (1995). It is not necessary that the plan be fully developed or that the plan identify prospective adoptive parents, but it must have sufficient content and substance to permit the court to meaningfully evaluate and consider the suitability of the DCF adoption plan. Adoption of Gertrude, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 817, 823–824 (2021); Adoption of Varik, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 762, 770–771 (2019). Judges are obligated to give meaningful consideration to admissible evidence related to any competing adoption plan or plans proposed by the parents, children, or both to decide which plan is in the children’s best interests. Adoption of Hugo, 428 Mass. 219, 226 n.8 (1998); Adoption of Dora, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 472, 474–475 (2001).
Subsection (f)(2). Bonding and attachment evaluators may testify in the same manner as any other witness. Expert opinions held by such evaluators are admissible subject to Sections 702, Testimony by Expert Witnesses, and 703, Bases of Opinion Testimony by Experts. Admission of a bonding assessment expert’s testimony based on observation of the mother’s interaction with her child was not an abuse of discretion even where counsel for the child, who had retained the expert, was alleged to have violated ethical obligations under Mass. R. Prof. C. 4.2 (2015) by failing to notify the mother’s counsel of the planned observation. Adoption of Bea, 97 Mass. App. Ct. 416, 425–426 (2020).
Cross-Reference: Section 201, Judicial Notice of Adjudicative Facts; Section 803(22), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Judgment of a Previous Conviction.
Subsection (f)(3). Findings of fact in a prior care and protection or termination of parental rights proceeding that are not “out of date, or the product of a proceeding where the parent may not have a compelling incentive to litigate,” may be admitted in a subsequent proceeding to the extent that they are both relevant and material. Adoption of Paula, 420 Mass. 716, 721 (1995); Adoption of Darla, 56 Mass. App. Ct. 519, 520–521 (2002). The parties and the judge are not bound by the prior findings, which carry no special evidentiary weight, and evidence may be offered by any party as to any of the issues covered by the prior findings, either to support or contradict them. Adoption of Paula, 420 Mass. at 722. Where a prior proceeding is on appeal, the better practice is for the judge to decline to admit the prior findings in the subsequent proceeding. Adoption of Simone, 427 Mass. 34, 43 (1998), citing Adoption of Paula, 420 Mass. at 722. See also Care & Protection of Zita, 455 Mass. 272, 283 (2009) (judge may not judicially notice facts or evidence brought out in a prior hearing or trial).
Subsection (f)(4). This subsection is derived from Custody of Two Minors, 396 Mass. 610, 621 (1986) (in assessing future fitness and likelihood of harm to child, judge may consider “prognostic evidence from prior patterns of parental neglect or misconduct”), and Adoption of Larry, 434 Mass. 456, 469 (2001) (judge may consider evidence of past parental conduct that is not too remote, especially where it supports “continuing vitality of such conduct”). See Custody of Vaughn, 422 Mass. 590 (1996) (domestic violence); Care & Protection of Laura, 414 Mass. 788 (1993) (physical and sexual abuse); Adoption of Katharine, 42 Mass. App. Ct. 25 (1997) (parents’ past substance abuse admissible but insufficient to support unfitness finding absent nexus between drug use and abuse or neglect of child).
Subsection (g). This subsection is derived from Adoption of Talik, 92 Mass. App. Ct. 367, 370–373 (2017). Whether to draw the adverse inference is a matter within the discretion of the judge, who should take into consideration all of the circumstances. Id. at 372. The department must produce evidence of unfitness before the judge may draw an adverse inference from a party’s failure to appear. See Adoption of Helga, 97 Mass. App. Ct. 521, 526–527 & n.6 (2020) (not abuse of discretion to draw adverse inference where mother was absent for last two days of trial and misrepresented her whereabouts, even though she had been present for most of trial and testified).
Section 1116. Peremptory Challenges of Potential Jurors
(a) General principles
This section applies to the use of peremptory challenges in civil, criminal, and juvenile cases. Peremptory challenges of potential jurors, which generally do not have to be supported by a reason, may not be based on a juror’s membership in a protected class, which includes sex, sexual orientation, race, creed, religious belief, and national origin. Peremptory challenges may be based on factors such as age, employment, place of residence, educational level, income, demeanor, or conduct, or factors other than membership in a protected class.
(b) Objecting to a peremptory challenge
An objection to a peremptory challenge may be made by a party or the matter may be raised by the judge in the absence of an objection. Whether the exercise of a peremptory challenge should be permitted or disallowed requires a three-stage analysis.
(1) Stage One: Prima Facie Case of Unlawful Discrimination
There is a presumption that the exercise of a peremptory challenge is proper, which is rebutted when the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose. Establishing a prima facie case of discrimination is not an onerous task, but if the party op-posing the peremptory challenge fails to make this showing, the judge must overrule the objection and allow the peremptory challenge. The trial judge has broad discretion to ask for an explanation concerning the propriety of a peremptory challenge, either at the request of a party or sua sponte.
(2) Stage Two: Group-Neutral Explanation
If the party objecting to the exercise of the peremptory challenge establishes a prima facie showing of discrimination, or the judge requests an explanation sua sponte, the party exercising the peremptory challenge must provide a group-neutral, bona fide reason for the peremptory challenge. The reason must be clear, reasonably specific, related to the case before the court, and personal to the juror. The judge must allow all parties to be heard and may take evidence.
(3) Stage three: evaluation of the explanation
The judge must determine whether the explanation given by the party exercising the peremptory challenge is both adequate and genuine. Good faith alone is insufficient. The judge must make two specific findings on the record regarding the explanation.
(A) Adequate. The judge must determine whether the reason given for the peremptory challenge is based on a factor other than the juror’s membership in a protected class.
(B) Genuine. The judge must determine whether the reason given for the peremptory challenge is genuine or a pretext.
If the judge concludes that the reason for the peremptory challenge is both adequate and genuine, the peremptory challenge of the prospective juror may be exercised. If the judge concludes that the reason for the peremptory challenge was either inadequate or not genuine, the peremptory challenge must be denied.
This section deals strictly with peremptory challenges and does not address challenges for cause. See G. L. c. 234A, § 67A.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 96 (1986), and Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 881 (1979). “Defendants have a right under the United States Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights to be tried by an impartial jury.” Commonwealth v. Obi, 475 Mass. 541, 550 (2016). See Commonwealth v. Jones, 477 Mass. 307, 319 (2017) (although Federal inquiry focuses on prospective jurors' right to be free from discrimination in participating in administration of law, and Massachusetts Declaration of Rights focuses on defendants' right to be tried by fairly drawn juries of their peers, “the result appears to be the same”). All parties, including the Commonwealth, are entitled to a jury that has not been unfairly skewed. See Commonwealth v. Kozubal, 488 Mass. 575, 582–583 (2021); Commonwealth v. Prunty, 462 Mass. 295, 308 (2012) (ensuring nondiscriminatory use of peremptory challenges is intended to benefit both sides in a criminal trial); Commonwealth v. Fruchtman, 418 Mass. 8, 13 (1994)(Commonwealth equally entitled to fairly selected and representative jury); Anderson-Mole v. University of Mass., 49 Mass. App. Ct. 723, 724 (2000) (civil litigants entitled to jury that is not “unfairly skewed”). Potential jurors are also entitled to the opportunity to serve on a jury without fear of discrimination. Prunty, 462 Mass. at 308.
When a peremptory challenge is improperly used to exclude a juror based on a discriminatory motive, the defendant’s “constitutional right to a jury selected free from discrimination” has been violated, and a new trial is required. Commonwealth v. Maldonado, 439 Mass. 460, 467 (2003). See Commonwealth v. Robertson, 480 Mass. 383, 397 (2018); Commonwealth v. Burnett, 418 Mass. 769, 772 (1994). Cf. Commonwealth v. Williams, 481 Mass. 443, 455 (2019) (improper allowance of challenge for cause does not warrant automatic reversal because presumption is that juror was “replaced by another fair and impartial juror”). Likewise, “[a]n erroneous denial of a peremptory challenge is a structural error, requiring reversal without a showing of prejudice.” Commonwealth v. Oberle, 476 Mass. 539, 545 (2017); Commonwealth v. Hampton, 457 Mass. 152, 164 (2010). See Gates v. Flood, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 739, 742–743 (2003) (improper disallowance of two peremptory challenges required new trial).
Protected Groups. The terms “discrete community group,” “protected group,” and “protected class” reflect the language contained in Article 1 of the Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of the Commonwealth, as amended by Article 106 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution (Equal Rights Amendment), and include sex, sexual orientation, race, color, creed, and national origin. Commonwealth v. Carter, 488 Mass. 191, 201–203 (2021); Soares, 377 Mass. at 488 n.33. Contrast Commonwealth v. Lopes, 478 Mass. 593, 597–598 (2018) (young adults not protected group); Commonwealth v. Acen, 396 Mass. 472, 477–478 (1986) (non-English speakers and noncitizens not protected groups); Commonwealth v. Matthews, 406 Mass. 380, 389 (1990) (suburban parents and caretakers of adolescent children not protected groups); and Commonwealth v. Evans, 438 Mass. 142, 149–150 (2002), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 966 (2003) (college students not protected group). “[Article] 12 prohibits bias in jury selection not only based on race or gender independently, but also based on a combination thereof.” Commonwealth v. Ortega, 480 Mass. 603, 605 (2018). While Commonwealth v. Carter resolved whether peremptory challenges based on sexual orientation are unconstitutional, the Supreme Judicial Court has still "not considered the question whether the exercise of a peremptory challenge to remove a juror ... because the juror was transgendered would violate the guarantees of art. 12 or the equal protection clause.” Commonwealth v. Smith, 450 Mass. 395, 405 (2008). In considering whether the party opposing the challenge has made a sufficient preliminary showing, the court should not group “members of all minority ethnic or racial groups . . . together” but instead consider whether the party has demonstrated discrimination against “particular, defined groupings in the community.” Commonwealth v. Jackson, 486 Mass. 763, 772 (2021), quoting Lopes, 478 Mass. at 600 n.5.
The party opposing the exercise of a peremptory challenge generally must demonstrate that the challenged juror is a member of a protected group. Commonwealth v. Suarez, 59 Mass. App. Ct. 111, 114 (2003). See Commonwealth v. Obi, 475 Mass. 541, 550–551 (2016) (judge’s observation that juror wore headscarf traditionally worn by Muslim women and similar to that worn by Muslim victim was sufficient to establish juror’s membership in protected group). If there is a reasonable question about whether a prospective juror belongs to a protected class, the trial judge must assume membership in the class for purposes of the first step in the Batson-Soares analysis. Commonwealth v. Robertson, 480 Mass. 383, 395 (2018). Cf. Ortega, 480 Mass. at 607 n.8 (persons belonging to various “minority ethnic or racial groups” may not be “lumped together” when assessing whether peremptory challenge is improper).
Even though it may have a racially disparate impact, the Commonwealth’s practice of checking CORI records of prospective jurors is not unconstitutional where there is no evidence of discriminatory purpose or intent. Commonwealth v. Grier, 490 Mass. 455, 468–469 (2022).
Subsection (b). Either a party or the judge, sua sponte, may initially raise the issue of a potentially improper peremptory challenge. Commonwealth v. Maldonado, 439 Mass. 460, 463 (2003). See Commonwealth v. Oberle, 476 Mass. 539, 545–547 (2017) (judge raised issue of improper challenge, found pattern of improper challenges, and denied exercise of peremptory challenge sua sponte); Commonwealth v. LeClair, 429 Mass. 313, 322 (1999) (“immaterial” whether issue is initially raised by judge or opposing party).
At each stage of the analysis, the trial judge makes explicit findings on the record, particularly when determining whether a proffered reason for a peremptory challenge is adequate and genuine. Maldonado, 439 Mass. at 465. However, “judges have ‘broad discretion’ to seek explanations for peremptory challenges ‘without having to make the determination that a pattern of improper exclusion exists.’” Commonwealth v. Robertson, 480 Mass. 383, 396 n.10 (2018), quoting Commonwealth v. Lopes, 478 Mass. 593, 598 (2018).
Timing of the Objection. To preserve the issue of an improper peremptory challenge for appellate review, the objection to the peremptory challenge must be made as soon as the basis for the objection is apparent. Commonwealth v. Smith, 450 Mass. 395, 406 (2008) (trial judge’s obligation to assess propriety of peremptory challenge is not triggered where counsel fails to object or assert that pattern of improper exclusion has been established); Commonwealth v. Colon-Cruz, 408 Mass. 533, 550 (1990) (a record in which a party has not had an opportunity to explain the use of peremptory challenges is inadequate to raise a challenge to an allegedly impermissible peremptory challenge). See also Commonwealth v. Lacoy, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 427, 434–435 (2016) (where judge raises issue concerning propriety of peremptory challenge sua sponte, party must object to judge’s ruling to preserve issue on appeal).
Subsection (b)(1). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Sanchez, 485 Mass. 491 (2020). There is a presumption that the exercise of a peremptory challenge is proper, which is rebutted upon a prima facie showing of discriminatory intent. Commonwealth v. Ortega, 480 Mass. 603, 606 (2018). In Sanchez, the Supreme Judicial Court “retire[d] the language of ‘pattern’ and ‘likelihood’” found in Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 881 (1979), and adopted the clearer formulation of the first stage as set forth in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 93–94 (1986), which considers whether “the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose.” Sanchez, 485 Mass. at 492, 511.
The first-stage burden is “minimal.” Sanchez, 485 Mass. at 510. “[R]ebutting the presumption of propriety is not an onerous task” and is appropriately characterized “as being merely a burden of production, not persuasion.” Commonwealth v. Jones, 477 Mass. 307, 321 (2017), citing Sanchez v. Roden, 753 F.3d 279, 302 (1st Cir. 2014). See Commonwealth v. Robertson, 480 Mass. 383, 391 (2018) (describing the burden of establishing a prima facie case as a “relatively low bar”); Commonwealth v. Maldonado, 439 Mass. 460, 464 n.4 (2003) (burden of making prima facie showing “ought not be a terribly weighty one”). See also Jones, 477 Mass. at 321–322 (given “relative ease of making required showing, judges should “think long and hard” before deciding not to require explanation); Commonwealth v. Issa, 466 Mass. 1, 11 n.14 (2013) (failing to require explanation creates “significant and needless risk of reversal”). Even without an explicit finding that a prima facie showing of impropriety has been made, a trial judge’s request that a party explain the reasons for a peremptory challenge constitutes an implicit recognition that the presumption has been rebutted. Commonwealth v. Kozubal, 488 Mass. 575, 582–583 (2021); Commonwealth v. Mason, 485 Mass. 520, 530 (2020).
Evaluating Discriminatory Purpose. Although not an exhaustive list, the Supreme Judicial Court has enumerated several factors that may be considered in determining whether an inference of discriminatory purpose has been established.
- Prior Use of Challenges. The trial judge may consider both the number and the percentage of members of a discrete group who have been the subject of prior peremptory challenges. Sanchez, 485 Mass. at 512. Where a “distinct pattern of disparate strikes” is shown, that alone is sufficient to satisfy the first-step burden.” Id. at 512 n.13. See Jones, 477 Mass. at 322–323 (prosecutor’s challenge of five African-American jurors while accepting only one raised prima facie case of discrimination); Commonwealth v. Hamilton, 411 Mass. 313, 316 (1991) (prima facie showing based on challenge to 67 percent of African-American and only 14 percent of white jurors). In some circumstances, a single challenge to a juror belonging to a protected group may be sufficient to rebut the presumption. Commonwealth v. Prunty, 462 Mass. 295, 306 (2012). See also Issa, 466 Mass. at 9 (single challenge may rebut presumption particularly where juror is only venire member in a specific protected class); Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 457 Mass. 461, 472 (2010) (removal of sole Hispanic juror adequate to rebut presumption). But see Commonwealth v. Roche, 44 Mass. App. Ct. 372, 377–378 & n.3 (1998) (peremptory challenge of member of protected class does not, by itself, constitute prima facie showing of impropriety).
- Nature of Questioning or Investigation. The trial judge may consider whether there is “any evidence of disparate questioning or investigation of prospective jurors” that might suggest that a member of a discrete group has been treated differently. Sanchez, 485 Mass. at 512. See Flowers v. Mississippi, 139 S. Ct. 2228, 2246–2248 (2019) (inference of discriminatory purpose raised by prosecutor’s questions and statements during voir dire).
- Comparison with Other Challenged and Seated Jurors. The trial judge may examine any similarities and differences in characteristics such as age, educational level, occupation, or previous interactions with the criminal justice system between jurors who were and were not challenged, or those who are and are not members of the protected group. Sanchez, 485 Mass. at 512. See Lopes, 478 Mass. 593, 603–604 (2018) (although a close question, judge could reasonably find that “common denominator” for challenges was age, not race).
- Group Membership in Common. The trial judge may consider whether the challenged juror is a member of the same protected group as a defendant, victim, or other party to the case. Commonwealth v. Issa, 466 Mass. 1, 9 (2013). See Commonwealth v. Obi, 475 Mass. 541, 550–551 (2016) (prima facie case met where challenged juror was Muslim, defendant was Muslim, and no other prospective jurors appeared to be Muslim).
- Composition of Seated Jurors. The trial judge may consider whether other members of a protected group have been seated on the jury, “giving due consideration to the fact that the seating of some members of a protected class does not immunize future peremptory challenges against that class from judicial scrutiny.” Sanchez, 485 Mass. at 512. See Commonwealth v. Carter, 488 Mass. 191, 197–198 (2021). (reversible error not to require race-neutral explanation where judge “relied all but exclusively on the racial composition of the previously seated jurors”); Commonwealth v. Ortega, 480 Mass. 603, 607 (2018) (presence of seated juror of protected class not dispositive on issue of prima facie showing); Commonwealth v. Robertson, 480 Mass. 383, 397 (2018) (judge erred in finding no prima facie showing of discrimination in challenge of black men even though two black women had been seated); Commonwealth v. Oberle, 476 Mass. 539, 546–547 (2017) (prima facie showing of discrimination against women despite presence of women on jury and in venire); Commonwealth v. Maldonado, 439 Mass. 460, 463 n.3 (2003) (“the ultimate issue is not whether there is a ‘pattern’ of excluding a discrete group, but whether the challenge made to any member of the panel is impermissibly based on the juror’s membership in [a protected group]”).
- Absence of Apparent Race-Neutral Reason. Judges may consider whether the record contains a race-neutral reason for the challenge. Robertson, 480 Mass. at 394; Commonwealth v. Jones, 477 Mass. 307, 324 (2017). Careful consideration must be given to “strikes based on minor offenses, particularly those involving young black men who have been subject to disparate treatment in the criminal justice system.” Commonwealth v. Jackson, 486 Mass. 763, 780 n.27 (2021).
The Supreme Judicial Court has recognized that the judge’s consideration of an objective, group-neutral explanation for the peremptory challenge in the first stage of the analysis overlaps with the analysis at the second and third stages. Jones, 477 Mass. at 322 n.25. “This list of factors is neither mandatory nor exhaustive; a trial judge and a reviewing court must consider ‘all relevant circumstances’ for each challenged strike.” Id. at 322 n.24, citing Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 96 (1986). See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Issa, 466 Mass. 1, 10 (2013) (judge did not abuse his discretion in considering other relevant circumstances, including prosecutor’s statement that challenged juror looked familiar).
Subsection (b)(2). If the trial judge finds that the prima facie case has been met, the party who sought to exercise the challenge must provide a justification for that challenge that is “group neutral,” or unrelated to the prospective juror’s membership in a protected group. Commonwealth v. Scott, 463 Mass. 561, 570 (2012); Commonwealth v. Prunty, 462 Mass. 295, 306 (2012). While general assertions are not enough, the explanation does not have to rise to the level of specificity required to remove a juror for cause. Commonwealth v. Cavotta, 48 Mass. App. Ct. 636, 638 (2000) (attitude, bearing, and demeanor of juror during voir dire may constitute sufficient basis for peremptory removal). See Commonwealth v. Fryar, 414 Mass. 732, 740–741 (1993), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1033 (1997) (reversible error for judge to supply group-neutral reason instead of waiting to hear from party exercising challenge).
Subsection (b)(3). The third stage requires the judge to determine whether the reason provided was a bona fide reason for exercising the challenge or a mere pretext to avoid admitting facts of group discrimination. Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461, 491, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 881 (1979). The party opposing the challenge is entitled to be heard as to the adequacy and genuineness of the reason. Commonwealth v. Maldonado, 439 Mass. 460, 464 n.6. (2003). The trial judge must make findings concerning two points: (1) whether the explanation is “adequate” and (2) whether the explanation is “genuine.” Id. at 464. While the soundness of the proffered explanation may be a strong indicator of its genuineness, the two prongs of the analysis are not identical. Id. at 466.
The judge must make specific findings to permit an appellate court to review for abuse of discretion the judge’s determination whether a party’s stated reason for a peremptory challenge was both adequate and genuine. See Commonwealth v. Oberle, 476 Mass. 539, 546–547 & n.4 (2017); Commonwealth v. Benoit, 452 Mass. 212, 220 (2008) (trial judge’s specific findings aid appellate courts in ascertaining whether judge “considered both the adequacy and the genuineness of the proffered explanation, and did not conflate the two into a simple consideration of whether the explanation was ‘reasonable’ or ‘group neutral’” [quotation omitted]). See also Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 457 Mass. 461, 470–471 (2010); Commonwealth v. Lacoy, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 427, 432 (2016). An appellate court is “not in a position to give deference to the judge’s findings” when the record does not reflect the trial judge’s independent evaluation and determination of the adequacy and credibility of the challenging party’s proffered reason for the peremptory challenge. Benoit, 452 Mass. at 223.
Subsection (b)(3)(A). Adequacy refers to the soundness of the proffered explanation. Commonwealth v. Maldonado, 439 Mass. 460, 464–465 (2003). An explanation is adequate if it is clear and reasonably specific, personal to the juror and not based on the juror’s group affiliation, and related to the particular case being tried. Id. See Commonwealth v. Nom, 426 Mass. 152, 155 (1997) (explanation that prospective juror’s prior domestic arrest was reason for challenge was based on factor other than juror’s race); Commonwealth v. Barnoski, 418 Mass. 523, 533–534 (1994) (specific examples of juror’s demeanor unrelated to juror’s ethnicity). Cf. Commonwealth v. Rosa-Roman, 485 Mass. 617, 637 (2020) (juror’s misunderstanding of question about whether she had an “interest” in case, even if it showed “lack of working knowledge of vocabulary of criminal law,” was not valid basis for exercise of challenge). Subjective challenges, such as a challenge to a juror’s looks or gestures, or a party’s “gut feeling,” should rarely be accepted as adequate because such explanations can easily be used as pretexts for discrimination. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Obi, 475 Mass. 541, 550–551 (2016) (defense counsel’s “gut feeling” that juror would not be sympathetic to defendant was insufficient); Commonwealth v. Benoit, 452 Mass. 212, 219 (2008) (inquiry must determine whether explanation is belatedly contrived to avoid admitting facts of group discrimination); Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 431 Mass. 804, 808–809 (2000) (“not liking her looks” was insufficient gender-neutral reason for peremptory challenge); Commonwealth v. Calderon, 431 Mass. 21, 27 n.4 (2000) (juror smiling at defense counsel did not justify challenge). Likewise, assumptions based on occupation or social or economic status should be carefully scrutinized for implicit bias or stereotype. Rosa-Roman, 485 Mass. at 637. Mere affirmations of good faith are not sufficient. See Commonwealth v. Carleton, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 137, 144 (1994). A trial judge’s determination that the explanation offered by the party exercising the peremptory challenge is adequate is within the sound discretion of the judge and will not be disturbed so long as there is support for the ruling in the record. Commonwealth v. Scott, 463 Mass. 561, 570 (2012).
Subsection (b)(3)(B). An explanation is genuine “if it is in fact the reason for the exercise of the challenge.” Commonwealth v. Maldonado, 439 Mass. 460, 465 (2003). The mere denial of an improper motive is inadequate to establish the genuineness of the explanation. Id. A justification that is reasonable in the abstract must be rejected if the judge does not believe that it reflects the challenging party’s actual thinking. See Commonwealth v. Oberle, 476 Mass. 539, 546–547 (2017) (in domestic violence case in which defendant was charged with assaulting his female partner, trial judge did not abuse his discretion in finding a lack of genuineness of defendant’s proffered reasons for peremptory challenge of woman juror after all three of defendant’s previous peremptory challenges had been of women); Commonwealth v. Prunty, 462 Mass. 295, 309 (2012) (trial judge warranted in finding that defendant’s challenge, allegedly based on juror’s occupation, was not genuine); Commonwealth v. LeClair, 429 Mass. 313, 323 (1999) (affirming judge’s disallowance of peremptory challenge after he determined that it was disingenuous).
If the trial judge determines that the peremptory challenge was improper, “the judge has the authority to fashion relief without declaring a mistrial.” Commonwealth v. Reid, 384 Mass. 247, 254–255 (1981) (defendant’s improper use of peremptory challenges of prospective male jurors authorized trial judge to strike all jurors and begin with a new venire).
Allowing the Peremptory Challenge. A peremptory challenge will be allowed if the judge concludes that the reason for the challenge was both adequate and genuine. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 457 Mass. 461, 473–474 (2010) (explanation that challenge to prospective juror was based on juror’s inability to follow instructions and experience in court system was sufficient and credible); Commonwealth v. Lacoy, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 427, 436–437 (2016) (explanation that juror’s failure to accurately report criminal record was adequate and genuine).
Denying the Peremptory Challenge. The exercise of a peremptory challenge is not allowed if the trial judge finds that the explanation for the challenge is either not adequate or not genuine. See Commonwealth v. Povez, 84 Mass. App. Ct. 660, 665 (2013) (explanation that juror was challenged because his father worked as janitor in Federal court was adequate but not genuine). See also Commonwealth v. Prunty, 462 Mass. 295, 310 (2012) (explanation that peremptory challenge was used to remove juror based on her occupation was not genuine); Commonwealth v. Calderon, 431 Mass. 21, 26–28 (2000) (challenge based primarily on juror’s husband’s occupation not adequate); Commonwealth v. Carvalho, 88 Mass. App. Ct. 840, 844 (2016) (explanation for challenge that “looking at the juror’s experience, I don’t feel that she would be a person that would be fair and equitable to my client” was not genuine).
Section 1117. Civil commitment hearings for mental illness
(a) Mental health commitment hearings
In order to commit or retain a person in a mental health facility or in Bridgewater State Hospital, the petitioner must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
(1) the respondent is mentally ill;
(2) by reason of that illness, the failure to commit or retain the respondent in a facility would create a likelihood of serious harm to the respondent or another; and
(3) if the respondent is already committed to a mental health facility or to Bridgewater State Hospital, discharge of the patient from said facility is imminent.
(b) Law of evidence
The law of evidence applies in commitment hearings for persons with mental illness.
(c) Expert opinion testimony
Expert opinion testimony, whether by a treating psychiatrist or any other witness, is admissible if
(1) the expert witness testimony will assist the trier of fact;
(2) the witness is qualified as an expert in the relevant area of inquiry;
(3) the facts or data in the record are sufficient to enable the witness to give an opinion that is not merely speculation;
(4) the expert opinion is based on a body of knowledge, a principle, or a method that is reliable; and
(5) the expert has applied the body of knowledge, the principle, or the method in a reliable manner to the particular facts of the case.
(d) Basis for expert opinion
The facts or data upon which an expert witness may base an opinion or inference include
(1) facts observed by the witness or otherwise in the witness’s direct personal knowledge;
(2) evidence already in the record or that will be presented during the course of the proceedings, which facts may be assumed to be true in questions put to the witness; and
(3) facts or data not in evidence if the facts or data are independently admissible in evidence and are a permissible basis for an expert to consider in formulating an opinion.
(e) Psychotherapist-patient and social worker–client privileges
A patient shall have the privilege of refusing to disclose, and of preventing a witness from disclosing, any communication, wherever made, between that patient and a psychotherapist or between that patient and a social worker relative to the diagnosis or treatment of the patient’s mental or emotional condition.
The privilege does not apply to a disclosure made by a psychotherapist or social worker who, in the course of diagnosis or treatment of the patient, determines that the patient is in need of treatment in a hospital for mental or emotional illness or presents an imminent threat of dangerous activity, and who, on the basis of that determination, discloses such communication for the purpose of either placing or retaining the patient in such hospital, provided, however, that the provisions of this section shall continue in effect after the patient is in that hospital, or after placing the patient under arrest or under the supervision of law enforcement authorities.
Whenever a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker interviews a patient on behalf of the Commonwealth with the purpose of preparing for a hearing, whether or not the interview was ordered by the court, the patient must be warned before the interview begins that everything said during the interview is not subject to privilege and may be presented against the patient in the hearing.
(A) The privilege must be knowingly and willfully waived for the contents of the conversation to be admissible at the hearing.
(B) No statement shall be admitted if such statement constitutes a confession or admission of guilt to the crime charged.
(f) Hospital Records
Records kept by hospitals pursuant to G. L. c. 111, § 70, and by mental health facilities pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 36, shall be admissible as evidence if such records relate to the treatment and medical history of such cases. Records required to be kept by hospitals under the law of any other United States jurisdiction may be admissible.
(g) Medical Bills, Records, and Reports
Records and reports of an examination and itemized bills for services rendered are admissible as
(1) evidence of the necessity of such services or treatments;
(2) the diagnosis, prognosis, or opinion as to the proximate cause of the condition so diagnosed; or
(3) the opinion as to disability or incapacity, if any, proximately resulting from the condition so diagnosed.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 123, §§ 7, 8; Commonwealth v. Nassar, 380 Mass. 908, 912–914 (1980); and Superintendent of Worcester State Hosp. v. Hagberg, 374 Mass. 271, 276 (1978). A judge may, but is not required to, make written findings of fact. See Matter of P.R., 488 Mass. 136, 148–149 (2021).
Subsection (a)(2). “Likelihood of serious harm” is defined in G. L. c. 123, § 1, as
“(1) a substantial risk of physical harm to the person himself as manifested by evidence of, threats of, or attempts at, suicide or serious bodily harm; (2) a substantial risk of physical harm to other persons as manifested by evidence of homicidal or other violent behavior or evidence that others are placed in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm to them; or (3) a very substantial risk of physical impairment or injury to the person himself as manifested by evidence that such person’s judgment is so affected that he is unable to protect himself in the community and that reasonable provision for his protection is not available in the community.”
G. L. c. 123, § 1. The type of “serious harm” proven at the hearing must be the same as the type alleged in the petition. Matter of S.S., 2016 Mass. App. Div. 101, 103, citing Blixt v. Blixt, 437 Mass. 649, 665–666 (2002).
Subsection (a)(3). This subsection is derived from Acting Supt. of Bournewood Hosp. v. Baker, 431 Mass. 101, 105 (2000).
Subsection (b). This subsection is derived from the District Court’s Standards of Judicial Practice: Civil Commitment and Authorization of Medical Treatment for Mental Illness, Standard 5:01 (2011) (“[G. L. c.] 123 proceedings are formal judicial determinations in which a substantial deprivation of liberty is at stake and there are no statutory provisions or case decisions suspending the rules of evidence”).
Where a hearing regarding the authorization for the administration of antipsychotic medication pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 8B, immediately follows the civil commitment hearing under G. L. c. 123, §§ 7, 8, the expert witness need not duplicate the testimony regarding the adjudication of substituted judgment, potential treatment, and the respondent’s capacity to make informed decisions. However, while the psychotherapist-patient privilege does not apply in the commitment hearing, it does apply to the hearing regarding administration of medication. Matter of M.S., 99 Mass. App. Ct. 247, 251–252 (2021).
Cross-Reference: Section 803(6)(C), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Business and Hospital Records: Medical and Hospital Services.
Subsection (c). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Lanigan, 419 Mass. 15, 26 (1994), adopting the rule from Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). See Matter of P.R., 488 Mass. 136, 142–143 (2021).
Cross-Reference: Section 702, Testimony by Expert Witnesses (including Note “Five Foundation Requirements”); Section 703, Bases of Opinion Testimony by Experts.
Subsection (d). This subsection is derived from Department of Youth Servs. v. A Juvenile, 398 Mass. 516, 531–532 (1986), and Section 703, Bases of Opinion Testimony by Experts. Because expert testimony plays a crucial role in almost all proceedings under G. L. c. 123, §§ 7, 8, and 35, the most important evidentiary questions in such proceedings often arise from the basis of the expert’s opinion. A testifying expert will usually review the patient’s medical records, raising the same issues of reliable hearsay and privilege that would constrain the admission of those records into evidence. Adoption of Seth, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 343, 352 (1990); Section 1118(a), Civil Commitment Hearings for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders: Civil Commitment Proceedings Pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 35, for Individuals with Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders (commitment proceedings pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 35, “shall include expert testimony”). Experts may also want to interview caregivers, family members, and other clinicians about the patient’s history and behaviors. The contents of such conversations are not a permissible basis for an expert’s opinion in hearings pursuant to G. L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8 (unless they are subject to an exception to the rule against hearsay or are otherwise independently admissible) but may form the basis for an expert opinion in a hearing under G. L. c. 123, § 35, as long as the contents of the conversations are substantially reliable. Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. 112, 120–122 (2015); Department of Youth Servs. v. A Juvenile, 398 Mass. at 527, 531; Matter of J.W., 2016 Mass. App. Div. 74, 77–78. “If a party believes that an expert is basing an opinion on inadmissible facts or data, the party may request a voir dire to determine the basis of the expert opinion.” Department of Youth Servs. v. A Juvenile, 398 Mass. at 532. If a party requests a voir dire on the expert’s basis for opinion, the facts and data used to form that opinion should be evaluated as though they were themselves being admitted into evidence. Id. at 531; Adoption of Seth, 29 Mass. App. Ct. at 352. Although an expert may state an opinion based on unadmitted but independently admissible evidence, the expert may not testify about this evidence on direct examination; the expert may discuss such evidence only if asked about it on cross-examination. Matter of P.R., 488 Mass. 136, 142–144 (2021).
Bases for Expert Opinion in Mental Health Hearings. The following is a list of common bases for expert opinion testimony in mental health hearings that are permissible as a foundation for expert opinion:
- Objective observations, whether made by the expert themselves or by nurses, doctors, or other treatment professionals recording them in hospital records. Adoption of Abigail, 23 Mass. App. Ct. 191, 199 (1986); G. L. c. 233, § 79. See also P.W. v. M.S., 67 Mass. App. Ct. 779, 787 (2002) (privilege does not preclude admission of conclusions based on objective indicia rather than on patient’s statements).
- Medical history, including prior hospitalizations and diagnoses, if such diagnoses do not imply or contain privileged communications between a psychotherapist and patient, and such history is recorded in the medical records from a source with firsthand knowledge, meriting a presumption of reliability. Bouchie v. Murray, 376 Mass. 524, 531 (1978); Adoption of Saul, 60 Mass. App. Ct. 546, 552 (2004). See also Commonwealth v. Kobrin, 395 Mass. 284, 294 (1985); Section 803(6)(B), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Business and Hospital Records: Hospital Records, and the accompanying note; Section 803(6)(C), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Business and Hospital Records: Medical and Hospital Services, and the accompanying note.
- Conversations with the respondent, subject to prior notice and waiver of the psychotherapist-patient privilege. Commonwealth v. Barboza, 387 Mass. 105, 108 (1982); Commonwealth v. Lamb, 365 Mass. 265, 270 (1974); Matter of Laura L., 54 Mass. App. Ct. 853, 857 (2002).
- Facts or data that may be hearsay but are otherwise independently admissible such as conversations about direct observations made by other clinicians, if not privileged, or by family members. See Commonwealth v. Markvart, 437 Mass. 331, 336–337 & n.4 (2002) (holding expert opinion may be based on hearsay if facts or data contained therein would be admissible if presented in another form).
The following is a list of common bases for expert opinion testimony in mental health hearings that are impermissible as a foundation for expert opinion:
- Hospital records or medical reports that contain or reference the contents of privileged communications. Adoption of Seth, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 343, 352 (1990).
- Diagnoses or other information that necessarily imply the contents of privileged communications. Adoption of Saul, 60 Mass. App. Ct. 546, 552 n.8 (2004); Adoption of Seth, 29 Mass. App. Ct. at 352.
- Conversations with the respondent not subject to prior warnings and a waiver of privilege. Department of Youth Servs. v. A Juvenile, 398 Mass. 516, 531–532 (1986); Commonwealth v. Lamb, 365 Mass. 265, 270 (1974).
- Other evidence that would be inadmissible if offered in the proceeding, including hearsay not noted above as permissible. Department of Youth Servs. v. A Juvenile, 398 Mass. at 531. See also Section 801, Definitions; Section 802, The Rule Against Hearsay.
Cross-Reference: Section 703, Bases of Opinion Testimony by Experts.
Subsection (e). This subsection is taken nearly verbatim from G. L. c. 233, § 20B, and G. L. c. 112, § 135B. Objective observations by a psychotherapist are admissible if not accompanied by any communication. Matter of Laura L., 54 Mass. App. Ct. 853, 861 (2002), citing Sheridan, petitioner, 412 Mass. 599, 605 (1992), and Adoption of Abigail, 23 Mass. App. Ct. 191, 198–199 (1986).
Cross-Reference: Section 503, Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege; Section 507, Social Worker–Client Privilege.
Subsection (e)(1). This subsection is taken nearly verbatim from G. L. c. 233, § 20B(a). The rule does not apply where the patient is already in the custody of the State or in an ordinary judicial proceeding. Commonwealth v. Lamb, 365 Mass. 265, 268 (1974). “The legislature’s intention was to dispense with the privilege only when there is an imminent threat that a person who should be in custody will instead be at large.” Id. A treating psychiatrist may disclose the contents of privileged communications under this exception even if the conversation occurred during the course of an involuntary commitment under a section of G. L. c. 123. Walden Behavioral Care v. K.I., 471 Mass. 150, 157 (2015). The exception for G. L. c. 233, § 20B(a), is met as long as there is “an imminent threat that a person who should be in custody will instead be at large,” the examination was conducted “to determine the care and treatment” needed by the patient, and the examination was not specifically ordered by a court or sought by the Commonwealth “for the purpose of supporting a petition seeking [the respondent’s] involuntary commitment.” Id. at 159.
Cross-Reference: Section 503(d)(1), Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege: Exceptions: Disclosure to Establish Need for Hospitalization or Imminently Dangerous Activity; Section 507(c)(1), Social Worker–Client Privilege: Exceptions.
Subsection (e)(2). This subsection is derived from Commonwealth v. Lamb, 365 Mass. 265, 270 (1974), and Department of Youth Servs. v. A Juvenile, 398 Mass. 516, 526 (1986). This exception only applies when an examination is conducted by or for the Commonwealth or under a court order and is conducted pursuant to, or in anticipation of, a future proceeding. Walden Behavioral Care v. K.I., 471 Mass. 150, 159–160 (2015); Commonwealth v. Seabrooks, 433 Mass. 439, 450–451 (2001).
Regarding communications that occur during any court-ordered examination, the privilege applies unless the Lamb warning was given and the privilege waived, even if the communications are proffered as evidence of imminent harm. Matter of Laura L., 54 Mass. App. Ct. 853, 858–859 (2002).
Any examination for the involuntary administration of medication pursuant to the provisions of G. L. c. 123, § 8B, requires the provision of the Lamb warning. See G. L. c. 123, § 8B(h) (The psychotherapist-patient privilege, established by G. L. c. 233, § 20B, “shall not prohibit the filing of reports or affidavits, or the giving of testimony, pursuant to this section, for the purpose of obtaining treatment of a patient, provided that such patient has been informed prior to making such communications that they may be used for such purpose and has waived the privilege.”); Matter of T.M., 2017 Mass. App. Div. 99, 102 (hospital’s motion to amend treatment plan was still a proceeding under G. L. c. 123, § 8B, in which the psychotherapist-patient privilege applies); In re Commitment of M.B., 2013 Mass. App. Div. 8, 11 (“unambiguously clear” that psychotherapist-patient privilege applies to proceedings under G. L. c. 123, § 8B).
Appointment of Guardian. If a patient cannot knowingly and voluntarily waive the statutory privilege, then a guardian should be appointed to act on the patient’s behalf. G. L. c. 233, § 20B. A person may not be competent to waive the privilege if that person does not have “sufficient present ability to consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding” and does not have “a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings.” Commonwealth v. Vailes, 360 Mass. 522, 524 (1971), quoting Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960). Where there is some doubt, the court should make an inquiry as to whether an individual is capable of making a knowing and voluntary waiver of the privilege. Commonwealth v. DelVerde, 401 Mass. 447, 451 n.8 (1988); Matter of Laura L., 54 Mass. App. Ct. at 857; Adoption of Kirk, 35 Mass. App. Ct. 533, 539 (1993).
Cross-Reference: Section 503(d)(2), Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege: Exceptions: Court-Ordered Psychiatric Exam.
Subsection (f). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 233, § 79, and Bouchie v. Murray, 376 Mass. 524, 527–529 (1978). In the case of hospital admissions for psychiatric reasons, the fact and dates of such admissions are admissible as part of the medical record, and the reasons for such admissions are admissible if such reasons do not implicate any communications between a psychotherapist and patient. Commonwealth v. Clancy, 402 Mass. 664, 667 (1988). Privileged communications between a patient and psychotherapist or patient and social worker are not admissible under the hospital records exception. Usen v. Usen, 359 Mass. 453, 457 (1971). Records containing privileged information must be thoroughly redacted before they can be submitted into evidence. Clancy, 402 Mass. at 669. Records clearly within the privilege are not ordinarily open for examination by counsel because “the purpose of [G. L. c. 233, § 20B,] is to protect justifiable expectations of confidentiality.” Id. at 667, citing Usen, 359 Mass. at 457; Petitions of the Dep’t of Social Servs. to Dispense with Consent to Adoption, 399 Mass. 279, 286 (1987). If a hospital record contains notations relating to psychiatric treatment by doctors and nurses who are not psychotherapists, it may be reviewed by counsel and admitted into evidence, as long as it is redacted to exclude communications or notes of communications between the patient and a psychotherapist. Petitions of the Dep’t of Social Servs. to Dispense with Consent to Adoption, 399 Mass. at 288. Objective observations by a psychotherapist, social worker, nurse, or other party, recorded in the medical records, are admissible as long as they do not imply the contents of any privileged communication. Adoption of Abigail, 23 Mass. App. Ct. 191, 198–199 (1986).
Cross-Reference: Section 803(6)(B), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Business and Hospital Records: Hospital Records.
Subsection (g). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 233, § 79G, and Section 803(6)(C), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Business and Hospital Records: Medical and Hospital Services.
Reports from a psychologist or psychiatrist are admissible by statute under G. L. c. 233, § 79G, but similar to the hospital records exception (see Subsection[f], above), a report by a treating psychotherapist may not contain or imply the contents of any privileged communication. G. L. c. 233, § 79G; Adoption of Seth, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 343, 353 (1990). These reports are admissible even if prepared in anticipation of litigation. O’Malley v. Soske, 76 Mass. App. Ct. 495, 498 (2010). The limit contained in G. L. c. 233, § 79, that information contained in medical records must be germane to the patient’s treatment to be admissible, is expressly overridden in G. L. c. 233, § 79G, which permits the doctor’s opinion on proximate cause, diagnosis, and prognosis, as well as treating information. Commonwealth v. Schutte, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 796, 799–800 (2001). Psychiatric diagnoses contained in medical reports are therefore admissible, but only as long as such diagnoses do not disclose the contents of any privileged communication. See Adoption of Saul, 60 Mass. App. Ct. 546, 552–553 n.8 (2004) (finding that diagnostic terms “schizophrenia” and “schizoaffective disorder” were not themselves privileged where such terms do not reveal the contents of privileged communications, while diagnoses of kleptomania, pathological gambling, or pedophilia, among others, may inherently convey some contents of privileged communication).
Cross-Reference: Section 803(6)(C), Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial: Business and Hospital Records: Medical and Hospital Services.
Section 1118. Civil commitment hearings for alcohol and substance use disorders
(a) Civil Commitment proceedings pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 35, for individuals with alcohol and substance use disorders
In order to involuntarily commit a person with an alcohol or substance use disorder, the court must find by clear and convincing evidence, based on a hearing which shall include expert testimony and may include other evidence, that
(1) the respondent is an individual with an alcohol or substance use disorder, and
(2) there is a likelihood of serious harm to the respondent, the petitioner, or any other person as a result of the respondent’s alcohol or substance use disorder.
The respondent shall have the right to cross-examine witnesses, present independent expert evidence, call witnesses, and submit documents or other evidence.
(b) Hearsay in G. L. c. 123, § 35, proceedings
The rules of evidence do not apply in proceedings to commit individuals with alcohol and substance use disorders, except that privileges and statutory disqualifications do apply.
Hearsay evidence is admissible but may only be relied upon if the judge finds it to be substantially reliable.
Hearsay may be found to be substantially reliable by weighing some or all of the following factors. These factors are nonexclusive, and there is no requirement that hearsay satisfy each of the criteria to be considered substantially reliable.
(A) The level of factual detail, rather than generalized and conclusory assertions.
(B) Whether the statement is based on personal knowledge and direct observation.
(C) Whether the statement is corroborated by other evidence.
(D) Whether the statement was provided under circumstances that support the veracity of the source.
(E) Whether the statement was provided by a disinterested witness.
(c) Refusal to testify in G. L. c. 123, § 35, proceedings
No adverse inference may be drawn from a respondent’s refusal to testify or to speak with the examining clinician. The respondent’s refusal to testify or speak with the examining clinician does not prohibit the clinician from offering an opinion despite such refusal and reporting such refusal to the court.
Subsection (a). This subsection is derived from G. L. c. 123, § 35; Rule 6(a) of the Uniform Trial Court Rules for Civil Commitment Proceedings for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders (2016); and Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. 112, 118–120 (2015).
Significant Statutory Amendment. An amendment to G. L. c. 123, § 35, effective on April 24, 2016, eliminated a requirement for “competent medical testimony” and replaced it with a requirement for “expert testimony.” Although the decision in Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. at 118–120, discussed the former “competent medical testimony” language, the decision remains relevant regarding the “clear and convincing” standard.
Definitions. A person has a “substance use disorder” for the purpose of the statute if that person chronically or habitually consumes or ingests a substance to the extent that (1) such use substantially injures their health or substantially interferes with their social or economic functioning, or (2) that person has lost the power of self-control over the use of such controlled substances. G. L. c. 123, § 35.
Cross-Reference: Note to Section 1117(a)(2), Civil Commitment Hearings for Mental Illness: Mental Health Commitment Hearings (quoting definition of “likelihood of serious harm” from G. L. c. 123, § 1).
Subsection (b). This subsection is taken nearly verbatim from Rule 7(a) of the Uniform Trial Court Rules for Civil Commitment Proceedings for Alcoholic and Substance Abuse (2015), as approved of in Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. 112, 122 (2015) (“The flexible nature of due process permits accommodation of these circumstances by not requiring strict adherence to the rules so long as there is fairness in the proceeding.”). Because expert testimony is required by statute in G. L. c. 123, § 35, proceedings, it is essential that rules regarding the waiver of privilege be strictly adhered to when the court-appointed clinician interviews the respondent. See Commonwealth v. Lamb, 365 Mass. 265, 270 (1974); Section 1117(d)(3), Civil Commitment Hearings for Mental Illness: Basis for Expert Opinion (facts or data not in evidence).
Subsection (b)(1). This subsection is taken nearly verbatim from Rule 7(a) the Uniform Trial Court Rules for Civil Commitment Proceedings for Alcoholic and Substance Abuse (2015), as approved of in Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. 112, 122 (2015).
Subsection (b)(2). This subsection is derived from factors for weighing the reliability of hearsay in probation revocation hearings. Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. 112, 121–122 (2015); Commonwealth v. Patton, 458 Mass. 119, 132–133 (2010), citing Commonwealth v. Durling, 407 Mass. 108, 114–118 (1990), and Commonwealth v. Delaney, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 930, 932 (1994). In Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. 112 (2015), the Supreme Judicial Court discussed the requirement that hearsay be “substantially reliable” by relating it to the admissibility of such hearsay in probation revocation proceedings. Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. at 121–122, citing Patton, 458 Mass. at 132–133, and Durling, 407 Mass. at 114–118. The same factors apply for weighing whether to rely on hearsay evidence in support of commitment under G. L. c. 123, § 35. Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. at 122; Matter of J.W., 2016 Mass. App. Div. 74, 77. In Section 35 hearings the core goal, consistent with due process, is for the evidence to “provid[e] an accurate and reliable determination” of the underlying question of fact. Matter of G.P., 473 Mass. at 121–122; Durling, 407 Mass. at 116. Hearsay is presumptively reliable if it is admissible under standard evidentiary rules. Patton, 458 Mass. at 132; Durling, 407 Mass. at 118.
Cross-Reference: Section 801, Definitions; Section 803, Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial; Section 804, Hearsay Exceptions; Declarant Unavailable.
Subsection (c). This subsection is derived from Rule 7(b) of the Uniform Trial Court Rules for Civil Commitment Proceedings for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders (2016) and G. L. c. 123, § 35.
Section 1119: Digital evidence
For the purposes of this section, the following terms shall have the meanings given herein.
(1) Digital Evidence. “Digital evidence” means any information stored in or accessible through the use of a personal electronic device. This includes, but is not limited to, text messages, social media, call logs, photographs, audio recordings, voicemails, e-mails, videos, maps, and websites.
(2) Judge. “Judge” means any judicial officer authorized to conduct hearings and receive evidence.
(3) Personal Electronic Device. “Personal electronic device” means any device capable of communicating, transmitting, receiving, or recording messages, images, sounds, data, or other information by any means, including but not limited to a computer, tablet computer, cell phone, camera, or Bluetooth device.
(4) Virtual Proceeding. “Virtual proceeding” means a hearing or trial where one or more of the parties do not appear physically in the same courtroom, but appear via videoconference, telephonically, or by some other means.
(b) Application of law
The same principles of evidence law that apply to traditional documentary evidence apply to digital evidence in courtroom and virtual proceedings. Digital evidence admissible in a courtroom is admissible in a virtual proceeding.
(c) Presentation and preservation
Depending on the nature of the proceeding and as ordered by a judge or court, parties should print digital evidence on paper, e-mail it to the court, or transfer it to a deliverable storage medium, so that it may be marked as an exhibit or for identification and retained as part of the court record. A judge may not refuse to consider digital evidence solely because it remains on a personal electronic device and should inspect digital evidence presented on a personal electronic device when appropriate. Judges should make reasonable efforts to ensure that digital evidence, whether admitted or excluded, is preserved in the case record and for appellate review.
(d) Self-represented litigants
Because self-represented litigants may be limited in their ability to present and object to digital evidence, a judge should make reasonable efforts, consistent with the law, to ensure that self-represented litigants are fully heard.
In the twenty-first century, parties have increasingly relied on evidence created and stored on cell phones and other personal electronic devices as proof in evidentiary hearings and trials, often requesting judges view and personally inspect digital evidence on their personal devices. More recently, Massachusetts courts have begun conducting regular business remotely by telephone and videoconference. The purpose of this section is to facilitate the admission of digital evidence in courtroom and virtual proceedings.
Whether a party is represented by counsel or is self-represented, the fair and equal administration of the law requires that judges consider all admissible evidence that a party presents and make reasonable efforts to preserve that evidence for the case record as well as for any reconsideration or appellate review. The consideration and preservation of digital evidence may present special challenges, and thus judges and other court personnel should make reasonable accommodations when appropriate.
The admissibility of digital evidence is governed by the same principles applicable to other forms of evidence, which are covered in detail elsewhere in this Guide. These notes attempt to summarize common issues and identify other pertinent sections of the Guide. These notes do not address the substantive law of privacy, statutory or constitutional, which may be implicated when a party seeks to admit evidence, such as private conversations, that the opposing party alleges may have been unlawfully recorded. See G. L. c. 272, § 99 (all-party consent required for oral interceptions).
Authentication. Digital evidence must be authenticated to be admissible. Authentication requires the judge to find that the party offering digital evidence has produced sufficient evidence so that a reasonable person could find that the digital evidence is more likely than not what the offering party claims it is. See Commonwealth v. Purdy, 459 Mass. 442, 447 (2011) (where “the relevance and admissibility of the communications depended on their being authored by the defendant, the judge was required to determine whether the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant authored the e-mails”); Commonwealth v. Meola, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 303, 307–308 (2019). There are many different ways to establish that digital evidence is authentic, including
- testimony of a witness with personal knowledge about what appears in a video or photograph, even if the witness did not take the video or photograph;
- testimony of a witness who is familiar with the voice or handwriting contained in digital evidence;
- testimony of a witness providing “confirming circumstances” that the digital evidence was created by a particular person; or
- testimony of an expert or a person familiar with the system that created the digital evidence.
This Guide includes a section dealing with authentication in detail (Section 901, Authenticating or Identifying Evidence), discussing the methods described above and other examples of evidence that may be offered to satisfy the authentication requirement.
The judge does not decide whether the proponent has actually proved that the digital evidence is authentic, but decides only if there is enough evidence that would, if believed, permit the trier of fact to conclude that the digital evidence is authentic. See Meola, 95 Mass. App. Ct. at 308–309. The mere possibility that digital evidence may have been altered affects the weight of the evidence and is not, without more, a reason to exclude it. See Purdy, 459 Mass. at 450. When a digital communication is admitted in a jury trial in a criminal case, the judge should instruct the jury that they may consider the communication only if they are persuaded, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the communication is what the proponent claims it to be. See Purdy, 459 Mass. at 447; Commonwealth v. Middleton, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 756, 760-761 (2022). When digital evidence is admitted, the judge may permit the opposing party to present other parts of the same communication on the same subject to prevent presentation of a fragmented or misleading version of events.
Cross-Reference: Section 104(b), Preliminary Questions: Relevance That Depends on a Fact; Section 106, Doctrine of Completeness; Section 901, Authenticating or Identifying Evidence.
Hearsay. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement made by a person and offered to prove the truth of what the statement asserts. See Section 801(c), Definitions: Hearsay. Because of the preference for live testimony of a witness, out-of-court statements generally are not admissible in court, but this rule has many exceptions, including
- a statement made by an opposing party;
- a statement not made by a person but generated by a computer or other automatic process, such as cell phone logs and the time, date, or location information for digital photographs;
- a statement covered by one of the exceptions to the rule against hearsay, including, for example, “excited utterances,” business records, and certain statements of witnesses who are legally unavailable;
- a statement offered for a reason other than to prove the truth of what the statement asserts, such as a statement offered to show the speaker’s state of mind or the effect on the listener; and
- a witness’s prior statement contradicting the witness’s testimony when used to attack the wit-ness’s credibility.
If a single item of digital evidence contains multiple hearsay statements, each statement must be independently admissible.
Cross-Reference: Section 613, Prior Statements of Witnesses, Limited Admissibility; Note “Computer Records” to Section 801(a), Definitions: Statement; Note “Evidence Admitted for Nonhearsay Purpose” to Section 801(c), Definitions: Hearsay; Section 801(d), Definitions: Statements That Are Not Hearsay; Section 803, Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial; Section 804, Hearsay Exceptions; Declarant Unavailable; Section 805, Hearsay Within Hearsay.
Subsection (c). Generally, the offering party should provide copies of digital evidence for the court and any other party to inspect and retain.
Presentation of Digital Evidence. Digital evidence should be offered as follows.
- Printed Evidence. In traditional courtroom proceedings, all types of digital evidence that can be printed on paper from a personal electronic device (e.g., emails, call logs, text messages, social media, photographs, and web pages) should be. When printed on paper, “screenshots” should include relevant information from the image (e.g., sender’s name, time, date, and the like). Images must be legible for the judge and parties, and any appellate court, to view. When color is relevant, color copies should be provided.
- Audio and Video Evidence. Audio recordings and voicemails should be duplicated on a USB flash drive, compact disc (CD), or other storage medium. An audio recording or voicemail may also be offered in the form of a written transcript. Video recordings should be duplicated on a digital video disc (DVD) or other storage medium.
- Inspection of Digital Evidence on a Personal Electronic Device. If the offering party is unable to produce digital evidence in a format that is suitable to mark as an exhibit or for identification, the judge, with the assistance of court personnel, should inspect and consider digital evidence presented on a personal electronic device if (1) the device’s owner gives consent to the inspection, and, except in an ex parte proceeding, (2) the judge ensures that the party against whom the digital evidence is offered has a reasonable opportunity to review and object to the evidence. A judge shall not consider digital evidence that an offering party refuses to permit the opposing party to review. All persons who handle personal electronic devices must take care not to alter or delete potentially relevant evidence, including metadata. The opposing party, and the opposing party’s attorney, are not permitted to handle the device without its owner’s consent. However, the opposing party has a right to view digital evidence before the judge makes a ruling on its admissibility.
- Other Practices. This section is not intended to limit a court’s ability to accept digital evidence through the use of electronic filing. See Mass. R. E. F. 2 (definition of “electronically filed”). Nor is this section intended to displace any other practice consistent with the law, such as in-structing a party to send digital evidence to a specific e-mail address or mailbox, or to produce digital evidence in response to a discovery order or request made in advance of a hearing.
- Stipulations. Parties may stipulate to the contents of digital evidence. A stipulation is a voluntary agreement between the parties about some relevant fact, claim, or defense. The judge should determine whether such a stipulation must be in writing and how the stipulation should be presented to the fact finder. See Section 611(g), Mode and Order of Examining Witnesses and Presenting Evidence: Stipulations.
Preservation of Digital Evidence. A “hodgepodge” of statutes and rules govern the retention and preservation of evidence. See District Attorney for the Northern Dist. v. Superior Court Dep’t, 482 Mass. 336, 339–342 (2019). Methods for preserving digital evidence include the following.
- Printed Evidence, E-mailed Evidence, and Evidence on Storage Media. The court should mark as an exhibit, or for identification, any digital evidence presented on paper, by email, or on a storage medium (such as a USB flash Drive, CD, or DVD) and retain that digital evidence according to the court’s usual practice.
- Use of the Courtroom Recording System. Voicemails or audio recordings, especially those that are not available on a storage medium, should be played so that the courtroom system may record them for any future reference and possible transcription. The audio portion of a video recording, especially if not provided on a storage medium, should be played so it is recorded by the courtroom system. If possible, the person monitoring the recording system should immediately listen to the recording to ensure its quality and accuracy.
- Digital Evidence Inspected on a Personal Electronic Device. After inspecting digital evidence on a personal electronic device and inviting the parties to be heard, the judge should describe the digital evidence in as much detail as necessary to permit effective review of any ruling on its admissibility. Unless the personal electronic device itself is offered into evidence, the judge shall not keep a party’s personal electronic device as evidence in the case.
- Additional Considerations. If the judge excludes digital evidence that remains on a personal electronic device and physically preserving the evidence is impractical, the judge should generally describe the evidence and why it is being excluded. Upon request of the opposing party or upon the court’s own initiative, where appropriate, the judge may enter an order requiring the party offering digital evidence to preserve without alteration the original digital evidence, including its metadata, and the device on which it is located.
Subsection (d). Rule 2.6 of the Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct states that “[a] judge may make reasonable efforts, consistent with the law, to facilitate the ability of all litigants, including self-represented litigants, to be fully heard.” Judges are directed to “provide a self-represented party with a meaningful opportunity to present her case by guiding the proceedings in a neutral but engaged way.” CMJ Mgt. Co. v. Wilkerson, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 276, 283 (2017); City of Boston v. United States Gypsum Co., 37 Mass. App. Ct. 253, 256 (1994) (“Appropriate participation by the trial judge is crucial to ensuring a fair trial for both parties.”). See also Adjartey v. Central Div. of the Hous. Court Dep’t, 481 Mass. 830, 840 (2019) (identifying ways that nonlawyers may assist self-represented litigants without engaging in unauthorized practice of law).
“By way of illustration, a judge may: (1) construe pleadings liberally; (2) provide brief in-formation about the proceeding and evidentiary and foundational requirements; (3) ask neutral questions to elicit or clarify information; (4) modify the manner or order of taking evidence or hearing argument; (5) attempt to make legal concepts understandable; (6) explain the basis for a ruling; and (7) make referrals as appropriate to any resources available to assist the litigants.”
S.J.C. Rule 3:09, Canon 2, Rule 2.6, Comment 1A.
Helpful guidance for interacting with self-represented litigants is compiled in the Judicial Guidelines for Civil Hearings Involving Self-Represented Litigants, at https://perma.cc/MT78-G6WU.
Section 1120. Courtroom demonstrations, experiments, and computer simulations
(a) Courtroom demonstrations and demonstrative exhibits
Demonstrations or demonstrative exhibits, including chalks, may be presented to the jury but are not part of the evidence of the case and do not go to the jury room in the absence of agreement of counsel.
A witness may testify about the results of an experiment if the trial judge finds that the experiment is reliable and sufficiently similar to the circumstances of the issue and that the witness is qualified as an expert in the relevant area.
(c) Computer simulations
A party may present the results of a computer simulation if the trial judge finds that the simulation is based on a reliable methodology and that the underlying data is sufficiently complete and accurate.
This section is derived from Commonwealth v. McGee, 469 Mass. 1 (2014), and Commonwealth v. Rintala, 488 Mass. 421 (2021).
Subsection (a). Demonstrative evidence is used to illustrate witness testimony or assist in closing argument. It may consist of physical evidence such as a replica or model; a physical demonstration; or charts, chalks, or photographs. Commonwealth v. McGee, 469 Mass. 1, 7, 9–12 (2014) (six-year-old child witness allowed to use a couch to demonstrate how victim was positioned as defendant killed her); Goldstein v. Gontarz, 364 Mass. 800, 814 (1974) (counsel was allowed to use blackboard during closing argument to show estimated total damages). To be admissible, demonstrative evidence must (1) be a fair reflection of the facts or data that the proponent seeks to clarify and (2) create circumstances similar to those described in the witness testimony. Commonwealth v. Makarewicz, 333 Mass. 575, 592 (1956); Commonwealth v. Noxon, 319 Mass. 495, 536–537 (1946). See Commonwealth v. Shiner, 101 Mass. App. Ct. 206, 217–218 (2022) (where Commonwealth sought to communicate to jury how object seen using a night-vision camera might look different from how object would appear to naked eye, concept could be introduced through testimony of lay witness as a demonstration, rather than as an experiment requiring expert testimony). Proposed demonstrations need not exactly replicate the facts in evidence. Ducharme v. Hyundai Motor Am., 45 Mass. App. Ct. 401, 408 (1998). See Commonwealth v. Perryman, 55 Mass. App. Ct. 187, 193–194 (2002) (permissible for jurors to look through telescope that arresting officer used to view drug transaction).
Demonstrative exhibits should not be formally admitted in evidence or sent to the jury room unless the device is merely a summary of already admitted evidence, the parties agree, and the judge allows it. Commonwealth v. Wood, 90 Mass. Appt. Ct. 271, 276–280 (2016); Commonwealth v. Walter, 10 Mass. App. Ct. 255, 263–264 (1980) (judge allowed chalks depicting direct testimony of insurance adjustor to go to jury room). Demonstrations may be disallowed where the risk of prejudice, confusion, or delay substantially outweighs their helpfulness. Commonwealth v. Corliss, 470 Mass. 443, 454–456 (2015).
Subsection (b). Experiments must be admitted through expert testimony and must (1) be relevant and reliable; (2) be sufficiently similar to the circumstances of the evidence; and (3) not confuse the jury, but rather aid them in their analysis. Lally v. Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, 45 Mass. App. Ct. 317, 332 (1998). See Griffin v. General Motors Corp., 380 Mass. 362, 365–366 (1980) (use of ammonia instead of gasoline sufficiently similar to admit results of experiment to determine whether fumes could enter passenger compartment); Ducharme v. Hyundai Motor Am., 45 Mass. App. Ct. 401, 407-409 (1998) (results of crash test admissible even though crash test dummy was not placed in exact position as plaintiff injured in crash). The proponent of the experiment must demonstrate its reliability and the fitness of the expert. Commonwealth v. Rintala, 488 Mass. 421, 427 (2021).
Cross Reference: Section 702, Testimony by Expert Witnesses.
Subsection (c). A party offering a computer-generated model or simulation must treat it as a scientific test and show that (1) the computer is functioning properly, (2) the input and underlying equations are sufficiently complete and accurate and have been disclosed to the opposing party, and (3) the program is generally accepted by experts in the respective field. Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Boston Edison Co., 412 Mass. 545, 549 (1992); Schaeffer v. General Motors Corp., 372 Mass. 171, 177–178 (1977).