If you or your loved one has been charged with rape, witness testimony will play a key role in the outcome of your case. In Massachusetts, witness testimony in rape cases is governed, in part, by what is known as the “first complaint” doctrine.
First, a bit of background: Prior to 2005, the “fresh complaint” rule determined whether a witness could testify about what the alleged rape victim had told her. In deciding whether to allow the witness to testify, the court would consider when the alleged victim had confided in the witness. If the alleged victim spoke to the witness shortly after the alleged rape or sexual assault occurred, the court could admit the witness’ testimony. If, however, a lengthy period of time had already passed when the victim confided in the witness, the court would limit or exclude the witness’ testimony because the alleged victim’s statements about incident were not fresh enough – that is, timely enough – to be reliable evidence. The fresh complaint rule allowed multiple witnesses to testify at trial about what the alleged victim had said about the rape.
That changed in 2005 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the case of Commonwealth v. King. In that case, the court established a new rule, called the “first complaint” doctrine. Under the first complaint doctrine, the prosecution may call only the first witness in whom the alleged victim confided regarding the sexual assault or rape. The length of time between the alleged assault/rape and the disclosure to the witness no longer matters. However, only the first witness can testify about what the alleged victim said. The prosecution cannot call other witnesses who heard the alleged victim’s story at a later date, unless those witnesses testify regarding other matters. Moreover, the prosecutor may use the first complaint witness’ testimony only for particular purposes. In general, the prosecution may call the first complaint witness to support the alleged victim’s credibility, but may not call the witness to testify when the only legal issue to be determined is the identity of the assailant.
If you are facing rape charges, you need an experienced Boston sex crimes defense lawyer to protect your rights under the law and guard against overreaching by the prosecution. If you are not currently represented, contact the Mahoney Criminal Defense Group a Cambridge, Massachusetts firm.