Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules on Admission of 911 Call Where Caller Doesn’t Testify at Trial

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently considered whether the admission of a 911 call at trial was proper where the caller did not testify at trial, and whether admitting the call violated that defendant’s constitution right of confrontation.

In this case, the defendant was charged with two counts of Assault & Battery, and prior to trial, moved to preclude the prosecutor from admitting the 911 call, in which the caller identified his as the perpetrator, and alleging that he had just beaten her.

By way of background, in the case of Crawford v. Washington, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment barred the admission of statements of witness who did not appear at trial [unless they were unavailable to testify and where the defendant had had a previous opportunity to cross-examine them].

However, in Davis v. Washington, the United States Supreme Court, defining what constitutes a ‘testimonial statement’, ruled that statements are not testimonial if they were made under circumstances to enable police assistance to an ongoing emergency. In contrast, statements are testimonial when their primary purpose is to establish or prove events relevant to a criminal prosecution.

In this case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the 911 caller’s statements were made in the course of an ‘ongoing emergency’, and that therefore her statements was non-testimonial in nature; and not, in other words, under circumstances to prove the facts for a criminal prosecution.

The prosecutor, therefore, was permitted to introduce the 911 call, even though the caller did not testify at trial, and according to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, this did not violate the defendant’s constitutional Right of Confrontation under the Sixth Amendment.

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