New first complaint jury instructions

Issue November 2005

Under the first complaint doctrine adopted by the Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. King, a proper instruction to the jury will now read:

In sexual assault cases we allow testimony by one person the complainant told of the alleged assault. We call this “first complaint” evidence. The complainant may have reported the alleged sexual assault to more than one person. However, our rules normally permit testimony only as to the complainant’s first report. The next witness will testify about the complainant’s “first complaint.” You may consider this evidence only for specific limited purposes: to establish the circumstances in which the complainant first reported the alleged offense, and then to determine whether that first complaint either supports or fails to support the complainant’s own testimony about the crime. You may not consider this testimony as evidence that the assault in fact occurred. The purpose of this “first complaint” evidence is to assist you in your assessment of the credibility and reliability of the complainant’s testimony here in court. In assessing whether this “first complaint” evidence supports or detracts from the complainant’s credibility or reliability, you may consider all the circumstances in which the first complaint was made. The length of time between the alleged crime and the report of the complainant to this witness is one factor you may consider in evaluating the complainant’s testimony, but you may also consider that sexual assault complainants may delay reporting the crime for a variety of reasons.