Today the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its opinion in Commonwealth v. Parent, SJC-11181. After a jury trial Parent was convicted of Indecent Assault and Battery, Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor and Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor. In reversing convictions for a the Massachusetts Sex Crime and other the other charges the Court in Parent found the following facts:
The defendant’s fifteen year old daughter invited a fourteen year old girlfriend to spend the night at her home. The daughter asked the defendant if she and her friend could have an alcoholic drink. The defendant gave them each a bottle of alcoholic lemonade. Once they finished their drink Parent went to a local store to buy two six packs of the same drink. The girls were with him. They went home. The girls each had a few more drinks. The girls fell asleep on a sofa bed while watching television. The victim claims to have woken up with the defendant lying down between her and the daughter on the bed. The victim testified that the defendant had his hand in her pants, rubbing her genitalia over her underwear. She stopped him, the defendant left and the fourteen year old friend fell back to sleep. The next day Parent’s fiancé took the girls to the movies. The victim ran into a friend and disclosed what had happened the night before. The defendant’s daughter agreed that he had provided them with alcohol and that he was becoming intoxicated as the night progressed. She never saw or heard him get into the bed with them.
The defense contended that the victim was lying. In support of this defense counsel argued that the friend changed her story over time. This was corroborated by a detective’s report generated four days after the incident. In total defense recognized four significant inconsistencies between the trial testimony and what was related to the detective. On cross-examination the victim denied making the inconsistent statements to the detective. Accordingly, defense counsel tried elicit the inconsistencies from the detective. The judge would not permit it. The Supreme Judicial Court found this to be an improper limitation of Parent’s right to impeach the victim. The Court further found this to be prejudicial and reversed the conviction for Indecent Assault and Battery.
The Supreme Judicial Court addressed other issues as well. The trial judge improperly permitted the district attorney to elicit from the detective evidence that the complaining witness told him that Parent committed a sexual assault on her. The Court found this to be violative of the first complaint doctrine. In fact its only purpose was to pile on evidence that suggested that the victim was telling the truth and that the act did in fact occur. The Court restated its position that “[t]he testimony of multiple complaint witnesses likely serves no additional corroborative purpose, and may unfairly enhance a complainant’s credibility as well as prejudice the defendant by repeating for the jury the often horrific details of an alleged crime.” Nor was the friend’s statement to the detective admissible for the purpose of rehabilitating her credibility.
The count charging the defendant with delivering alcohol to his own daughter was also reversed. The applicable law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 138 Section 34 prohibits providing alcohol to anyone under the age of twenty one. Specifically, you cannot sell or deliver alcohol to a person under age, you cannot buy a drink for someone under age in a bar or restaurant and you cannot give an underage person alcohol. There is an exception provided by the statute. You can give it to your child or grandchild. In reversing this portion of the conviction the Supreme Judicial Court discussed confusing aspects of the statute pertaining to the words “furnish”, “procure”, “sell” and “deliver”. The Court concluded that what Parent was convicted for did not violate the statute.