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Commonwealth v. Garcia

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Essex

April 21, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
DOUGLAS GARCIA.

          Heard: December 6, 2016.

         Indictment found and returned in the Superior Court Department on August 4, 2010. The case was tried before Richard E. Welch, III, J.

         After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          Catherine Langevin Semel, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Michelle Menken for the defendant.

          Present (Sitting at Lawrence): Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          LOWY, J.

         A Superior Court jury convicted the defendant of raping his nineteen year old stepdaughter, Sally.[1] The defendant was married to Sally's mother. At trial, in response to a question that should not have been asked, the mother denied that she told Sally that the defendant had confessed to the crime in a private conversation between the spouses. Then, to impeach the mother, Sally was improperly permitted to testify to the contrary. We reverse because the trial judge's admission of such highly prejudicial evidence regarding the defendant's purported confession created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice.

         Background.

         The Commonwealth introduced the following evidence at trial. We reserve the circumstances of the erroneously admitted testimony for our analysis of the issue.

         After an argument with her boy friend, Sally spoke with her mother on the telephone and asked to stay at her apartment, where the defendant also lived. Although out of town, her mother told Sally that she could. Sally arrived at the apartment, greeted the defendant briefly, and went to bed in the spare bedroom.

         Several hours later, Sally was awakened by the feeling of someone's hand in her vagina. She turned over to see the defendant, naked, lying next to her. Sally realized her pants and underwear were pulled down around her ankles. The defendant stood up, wrapped a towel around himself, and said, "I'm so sorry, . . . it's all my fault." He then left the room. Sally dressed, gathered her belongings, and left.

         At trial, in response to a question by the Commonwealth, the mother denied that she had told Sally that the defendant had confessed to her. Then, to impeach the mother, the Commonwealth elicited testimony from Sally who stated that, in a conversation she had had with her mother, the mother stated that the defendant had told her that he was "sorry that he did it and he was so overtired he thought [Sally] was [his wife]." The defendant objected to this testimony.

         The jury convicted the defendant of rape by unnatural sexual intercourse in violation of G. L. c. 265, § 22. The Appeals Court reversed, concluding that G. L. c. 233, § 20, First, precluded Sally from testifying about a private marital conversation between her mother and the defendant, the substance of which her mother had purportedly disclosed to her. Commonwealthv.Garcia, 89 Mass.App.Ct. 67, 72-74 (2016). We granted the ...


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