In a recent appeal concerning a sexual assault case, he Massachusetts Appeals Court considered whether the purported ‘first complaint testimony’ must be remembered by the complainant in order to be admissible against a defendant at trial.
In Commonwealth v. Dale, the defendant appealed from his conviction of indecent assault & battery on a child under 14, arguing that the trial judge improperly admitted ‘first complaint testimony’ by the brother of the victim, who was 7 or 8 at the time of the incident. At trial, the brother testified that, at the time of the incident, the complainant had reported the abuse to him; but the complainant could not recall herself that she had, in fact, reported the abuse to her brother.
In Massachusetts, the first complaint doctrine permits a judge to admit testimony from the recipient of a victim’s initial report of sexual assault. The ‘first complaint witness’, i.e., the person to whom the sexual assault was first reported to, may also testify to the circumstances surrounding the complaint, including observations of the complainant; the events or conversation that culminated; the timing of the complaint; and other relevant conditions that might help the jury assess the truthfulness of the complainant as to the allegations of sexual abuse.