Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"First Complaint" Doctrine Modified

In Comm. v. Aviles, issued today, the SJC announced its intention to modify the first complaint doctrine.

"Until now, we have considered the first complaint doctrine to be an "evidentiary rule"...  The admission of evidence in violation of such evidentiary rule, that is, in violation of the established parameters of the first complaint doctrine, will always be deemed error. ... Where a defendant has objected to the admission of the evidence, an appellate court then will determine whether the error was prejudicial, ... and where a defendant has not raised an objection, an appellate court will determine whether the error created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. ...
" ...Rather than considering the first complaint doctrine as an evidentiary "rule," it makes greater sense to view the doctrine as a body of governing principles to guide a trial judge on the admissibility of first complaint evidence. .... The judge who is evaluating the facts of a particular case is in the best position to determine the scope of admissible evidence, keeping in mind the underlying goals of the first complaint doctrine, our established first complaint jurisprudence, and our guidelines for admitting or excluding relevant evidence. ... Once a judge has carefully and thoroughly analyzed these considerations, and has decided that proposed first complaint evidence is admissible, an appellate court shall review that determination under an abuse of discretion standard.
"The modification we announce today in no way should be construed as a relaxation or erosion of our first complaint jurisprudence. ... The importance of maintaining a balance between the interests of a complainant (who still may be a child) "in having her credibility fairly judged on the specific facts of the case" and the interests of a defendant "in receiving a trial free from irrelevant and potentially prejudicial testimony" cannot be overstated. "