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Guide to Evidence

Guide to Evidence Statement of the Supreme Judicial Court and Introduction

Adopted Date: 01/01/2021

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Supreme Judicial Court

The Supreme Judicial Court recommends the use of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence. Our recommendation of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence is not to be interpreted as an adoption of a set of rules of evidence, nor a predictive guide to the development of the common law of evidence. The purpose of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence is to make the law of evidence more accessible and understandable to the bench, bar, and public. We encourage all interested persons to use the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence.

Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd

Justice Frank M. Gaziano

Justice David A. Lowy

Justice Elspeth B. Cypher

Justice Scott L. Kafker

Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt

Justice Serge Georges, Jr.

January 2021

Preface

The Massachusetts Guide to Evidence is prepared annually by the Supreme Judicial Court’s Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law. By direction of the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Guide organizes and states the law of evidence applied in proceedings in the courts of the Commonwealth, as set forth in the Federal and State Constitutions, General Laws, common law, and rules of court. The Committee invites comments and suggestions on the Guide. 

The Guide follows the arrangement of the Federal Rules of Evidence and thus is comprised of eleven articles. Wherever possible, the Guide expresses the principles of Massachusetts evidence law by using the language that appears in the corresponding Federal rules. For example, as the law governing testimony by expert witnesses is found in Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, the corresponding provision of Massachusetts law is found in Section 702 of the Guide and is based on the language that appears in the Federal rule. In some cases, a principle of Massachusetts law has no counterpart in the Federal rules of evidence. For example, the first complaint doctrine, a special hearsay exception applicable in sexual assault cases, is found in Section 413 of the Guide, but it has no counterpart in the Federal rules. The addendum provides a table that compares each section of the Guide to the corresponding section of the Federal rules, indicating if a corresponding Federal rule exists, and, if so, whether the provisions are identical, substantially similar, or contain differences. Finally, Article XI of the Guide contains a series of miscellaneous provisions that do not fit within the other ten articles but that are closely related to core evidentiary issues. These include provisions on spoliation or destruction of evidence (Section 1102), witness cooperation agreements (Section 1104), eyewitness identification (Section 1112), opening statements and closing arguments (Section 1113), and, new to the 2021 edition, digital evidence (Section 1119). 

Each section of the Guide, in addition to the statement of the law of Massachusetts current through December 31, 2020, contains an accompanying “Note” that includes supporting authority. Some sections are based on a single statute or decision, while other sections were derived from multiple sources. Certain sections were drafted “nearly verbatim” from a source with minimal changes, for instance, revised punctuation, gender-neutral terms, or minor reorganization, to allow the language to be stated more accurately in the context of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence.

The Guide is not a set of rules, but rather, as the title suggests, a guide to evidence based on the law as it exists today. The Committee did not attempt, nor is it authorized, to suggest modifications, adopt new rules, or predict future developments in the law. The Committee has recommended to the Supreme Judicial Court that the Guide be published annually to address changes in the law and to make any other revisions as necessary. The Committee’s goal is to reflect the most accurate and clear statement of current law as possible. Ultimately, the law of evidence in Massachusetts is what is contained in the authoritative decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court and of the Appeals Court, and the statutes duly enacted by the Legislature.

Supreme Judicial Court Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law

Introduction to the 2021 edition

On behalf of the Supreme Judicial Court’s Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law, we want to express our gratitude to the Flaschner Judicial Institute for its support in publishing this 2021 official edition of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence. As a result of Flaschner’s commitment to the continuing education and professional development of the Massachusetts judiciary, for the thirteenth straight year, the Guide will be distributed to every trial and appellate judge in the Commonwealth.

In June 2006, the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, at the request of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, appointed the Supreme Judicial Court Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law to prepare a guide to the Massachusetts law of evidence. The Justices charged the Committee “to assemble the current law in one easily usable document, along the lines of the Federal Rules of Evidence, rather than to prepare a Restatement or to propose changes in the existing law of evidence.” In November 2008, the Advisory Committee published the first edition of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence. The Guide presents evidence law as it currently exists, replete with explanatory notes and citations to governing legal authorities. In preparing each annual edition, the Committee has fulfilled its charge to advance the delivery of justice by making the Massachusetts law of evidence more accessible and understandable for the bench, bar, and public.

Special recognition is due to the many persons who have participated in the creation and annual preparation of the Guide, including

  • the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, for their requests of the Supreme Judicial Court to reconsider the Court’s position on the adoption of rules of evidence, which resulted in the appointment of the Advisory Committee and creation of the Guide;
  • the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court for boldly experimenting with a new committee and form of legal publication approved by the Court;
  • the Advisory Committee members, including their law clerks and interns, who have painstakingly analyzed countless Massachusetts decisions, statutes, rules of procedure, and drafts of the Guide;
  • the many judges, attorneys, court personnel, and interested persons who have provided feedback and suggestions on how to improve or what to include in the Guide;
  • the Flaschner Judicial Institute, its Chief Executive Officer, the Honorable Peter W. Agnes, Jr. (Retired), and its copy editor extraordinaire, Michael Huppe, for their work in publishing the Guide and making copies available to each sitting judge of the Commonwealth;
  • the Chief Justices of each Department of the Trial Court, the Appeals Court, and the Supreme Judicial Court, for accommodating the time commitment of Committee members to participate on the committee; and
  • Kevin P. Buckley and Meg Hayden, the Web Administrators of the Massachusetts Trial Court, for their work in publishing the Guide on the court’s website.

The value of the Guide in practice is confirmed by the fact that it has been cited as a source of authority by the Appeals Court and by the Supreme Judicial Court in both published and unpublished opinions more than 1,300 times since it was first published in 2008. The Guide is also frequently cited and relied upon by judges throughout the Trial Court. Ultimately, the best evidence of the Guide’s value is the frequency with which it is consulted by judges, lawyers, and parties in civil, criminal, juvenile, and youthful offender cases as an authoritative expression of Massachusetts evidence law. The extraordinary consensus that exists among the members of the bench and the bar as to the Guide’s authoritativeness is a tribute to the acumen and dedication of the members of the Advisory Committee with whom we serve who labor throughout the year to understand and to concisely integrate into the fabric of the Guide developments in our common law, court rules, constitutional law, and statutes, as well as pertinent decisions of the United States Supreme Court, that sometimes bring about sweeping changes in the law of evidence and in the responsibilities of lawyers and judges.

As in past editions, we have tried to include references to the significant appellate court decisions of the immediately preceding year. The 2021 edition thus includes references to over thirty-five new appellate court decisions. Conversely, we continued our efforts to keep the Guide to a manageable length and as usable as possible by removing over twenty citations in instances where developments have rendered a decision no longer the most authoritative, timely, or illustrative one on a particular point of law.

With the completion of the 2021 edition, we are also pleased that the Supreme Judicial Court has appointed Boston University School of Law Professor Jasmine Gonzales Rose and the Honorable Sarah W. Ellis of the District Court as new members of the Advisory Committee. We also thank the departing members of the Committee for their service: the Honorable Dalila Argaez Wendlandt of the Supreme Judicial Court and Philip K. Hamilton, Professor of Law Emeritus at New England Law | Boston. Professor Hamilton was appointed to the Advisory Committee in November 2008 and has served tirelessly ever since. His intellect, judgment, and quiet leadership will be sorely missed.

In closing, we hope that you will take the opportunity to write to us with comments, suggestions, and even any criticisms you think are warranted about the material contained in the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence so that we will be better informed about how to improve it and thereby make the law of evidence in Massachusetts more accessible to all.

Hon. Gregory I. Massing
Editor-in-Chief

Joseph F. Stanton, Esq.
Reporter

Supreme Judicial Court Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law

Advisory Committee

Hon. Gregory I. Massing Appeals Court, Editor-in-Chief

Hon. Mark S. Coven, District Court, Editor

Elizabeth N. Mulvey, Esq., Crowe & Mulvey, LLP, Editor

Joseph F. Stanton, Esq., Appeals Court, Reporter

Hon. Heidi Brieger, Superior Court

Victoria Arend Carbone, Esq., Law Clerk, Appeals Court

Professor R. Michael Cassidy, Boston College Law School

Sean C. Connolly, Esq., Research Attorney, Appeals Court

Edmund P. Daley III, Esq., Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsy and Popeo, P.C.

Hon. Sarah W. Ellis, District Court

Benjamin K. Golden, Esq., Suffolk University Law School

Professor Philip K. Hamilton, New England School of Law

Katherine M. Horigan, Esq., Law Clerk, Appeals Court

Hon. Barbara M. Hyland, Probate and Family Court

Timothy E. Maguire, Esq., Deputy Legal Counsel, Supreme Judicial Court

Professor Jasmine Gonzales Rose, Boston University School of Law

Hon. Gloria Y. Tan, Juvenile Court

Hon. Dalila Argaez Wendlandt, Supreme Judicial Court

Hon. Peter W. Agnes, Jr. (Retired), Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Hon. R. Marc Kantrowitz (Retired), Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Hon. David A. Lowy, Supreme Judicial Court, Consulting Member

Research Assistants

Eric T. Davey, Esq., Law Clerk, Appeals Court

Kelsey L. Gasseling, Esq., Law Clerk, Appeals Court

Student Interns

Ciaran D. O’Dwyer

Lauren C. Hughes

Acknowledgments

Over the years, many judges and lawyers, too numerous to identify, have generously contributed their time and talents to help make this Guide useful to the bench and the bar. We encourage judges and lawyers with an interest in the law of evidence to suggest improvements to the Guide. Comments and questions should be directed to the reporter at Joseph.Stanton@jud.state.ma.us.

Currency, usage, and terminology

Currency and usage. The Massachusetts Guide to Evidence has been updated to state the Massachusetts law of evidence as it exists through December 31, 2020. The Supreme Judicial Court Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law has made every effort to provide accurate and informative statements of the law in the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence. Counsel and litigants are encouraged to conduct their own research for additional authorities that may be more applicable to the case or issue at hand. Importantly, given the fluidity of evidence law, all users of this Guide should per-form their own research and monitor the law for the most recent modifications to and statements of the law. Portions of the Guide change with each new edition, not necessarily because the law itself changes, but because there is a better, clearer way to explain the law. The Guide is not intended to constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice, and the Guide is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.

“Not recognized” sections. Where the Advisory Committee has noted that the Federal Rules of Evidence contain a provision on a particular subject and the Committee has not identified any Massachusetts authority that recognizes that subject, or where the Supreme Judicial Court has declined to follow the Federal rule on that subject, the topic is marked “not recognized” to await further development, if any, of the law on that topic.

“Nearly verbatim” sections. The notes to some sections state that the section’s text was derived “nearly verbatim” from a specific statute, court decision, or court rule. This phrase explains that the Advisory Committee made minor modifications to an authority’s original language to allow the language to be stated more accurately in the context of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence. Such modifications may include revised punctuation, gender-neutral terms, minor reorganization, and the use of numerals instead of spelling numerals.

Comments and suggestions. Please send any comments or suggestions to the Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law, c/o Joseph Stanton, Reporter, Appeals Court, Clerk’s Office, John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Room 1200, Boston, MA 02108-1705, or by email to Joseph.Stanton@jud.state.ma.us.

Copyright. The Supreme Judicial Court holds the copyright to this original work. The Supreme Judicial Court makes the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence available to the public on the Court’s Web site at https://www.mass.gov/guides/massachusetts-guide-to-evidence. Inquiries as to commercial use may be directed to the Court’s Public Information Office at 617-557-1114.

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