Com. v. Kirouac

Citation405 Mass. 557,542 N.E.2d 270
Decision Date10 August 1989
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Regina Zupan, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for defendant.

Ariane D. Vuono, Assistant District Attorney, for Com.


WILKINS, Justice.

We reverse the defendant's conviction of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen. The lack of cooperation by the alleged child victim, whom we shall call Valerie (not her real name), during the defendant's attempts to cross-examine her denied the defendant any meaningful opportunity for cross-examination. 1 The indictment alleged multiple rapes and indecent assaults and batteries on Valerie, the defendant's natural daughter. The defendant had court ordered visitation rights. Visits occurred every other week at the defendant's house, where he lived with his parents and several siblings. Valerie was four years old when she first described the acts allegedly perpetrated by the defendant, and she was six at the time of trial. Valerie testified on direct examination that "bad" things had happened on the defendant's bed and that the defendant had touched her crotch with his hand. She did not, however, testify to any incidents of penetration. On both direct and cross-examination, the child frequently responded, "I'm tired," or "I want to go to my nanny's." We shall return to the nature of Valerie's testimony on cross-examination.

The mother testified, by way of fresh complaint evidence, that, in May, 1986, Valerie told her that the defendant, whom Valerie called "Dougie," "made her lay down on the bed so that he can play with her and stick an object up her." The next morning, the mother brought the child to see the family physician.

The family physician testified, by way of fresh complaint evidence, that he had questioned the child and she had responded, "Dougie played nasty with me," and had pointed to her genitals. She had declined to answer any more of the doctor's questions and had become reticent when he tried to examine her. He had checked for external injury and had found none. After concluding his examination, he reported the incident to the Department of Social Services (department).

Five days later, another doctor examined Valerie. He testified that Valerie's hymenal membrane was not fully intact. He concluded that, although his findings were consistent with and suggestive of abuse, they were not conclusive of abuse.

A social worker in the department was assigned to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse against the defendant. An interview with Valerie was arranged with the Sexual Assault Intervention Network, a group composed of professionals trained to handle cases of alleged sexual assault. A female State trooper conducted the interview on May 6, 1986, at the Franklin County Mental Health Center. The interview, which lasted for forty-five minutes, was recorded on videotape through a two-way mirror.

Initially, when questioned as to whether anybody had touched her in a way she did not like, Valerie referred to conduct of other children. After discussing what her female cousin, a contemporary, had done and after avoiding answering questions seeking other incidents of improper touching, Valerie announced that she needed to go to the bathroom. The department's social worker took Valerie to the bathroom. When the two returned a few minutes later, the social worker told the State trooper that Valerie had told her something that Valerie might want to discuss. Valerie then said, pointing to her crotch, "Dougie play [sic ] nasty with me here." The focus of the interview then shifted from incidents with her cousin to exploration of incidents between Valerie and the defendant.

Valerie described acts amounting to both rape and indecent assault and battery. Specifically, she said that the defendant touched her "tookie" with a pen, 2 that the defendant had kissed her "tookie," and that the defendant had taken off his clothes and played nasty in her "wheezie" with a pen, his "wheezie," and a "licking stick." Valerie also demonstrated behavior she called "humping" by lying face-to-face on top of an anatomically correct doll and moving back and forth in a rocking motion. She stated that "Dougie" had "humped" her.

During the interview Valerie also marked on pictures representing a female child where "Dougie" had touched her (vaginal area, buttocks, and shoulder blade). These marked pictures were offered as exhibits at trial and were admitted over objection. The videotape was also shown in its entirety to the jury, over the defendant's objection, as fresh complaint evidence.

We shall first discuss the inadequacy of the opportunity the defendant had to cross-examine Valerie. Our conclusion on that issue will be sufficient to resolve the defendant's appeal, which we transferred here on our own motion. We shall discuss, however, two matters that may become important in further proceedings in this case.

1. The defendant was denied his State and Federal constitutional right to confront Valerie through cross-examination. He was, of course, not entitled to a witness whose memory was perfect (or even good) or whose attention span was long (or even normal). He was entitled, however, to a different response from Valerie than he received.

Valerie testified reluctantly on direct examination, particularly as to what happened between Dougie and her at his house, but she did testify that Dougie touched her on her "tookie." She then announced that she was tired. The prosecutor's attempts to obtain further information from Valerie failed. 3 Court adjourned for the day.

On the next day, Valerie was an even more reluctant witness on continued direct examination, and the prosecutor, believing that Valerie was not going to testify to anything else, abandoned her direct questioning without obtaining any further inculpatory testimony. The prosecutor was right; Valerie was through talking about what, if anything, Dougie had done. The Commonwealth concedes that Valerie resisted answering nearly all questions put to her on cross-examination. We set forth in the margin that portion of Valerie's cross-examination that was directed toward her inculpatory testimony on direct examination. 4

In deciding whether a defendant's constitutional right to cross-examine and thus confront a witness against him has been denied because of an unreasonable limitation of cross-examination, a court must weigh the materiality of the witness's direct testimony and the degree of the restriction on cross-examination. The determination can only be made on a case-by-case basis. Cross-examination that is somewhat impeded, but not totally foreclosed, presents a weaker case for finding a denial of rights than a complete absence of cross-examination. Compare United States v. Owens, 484 U.S. 554, 108 S.Ct. 838, 841-843, 98 L.Ed.2d 951 (1988) (no violation of constitutional right to confrontation where victim remembered that he had earlier identified defendant as his assailant but at trial could not explain his identification); Delaware v. Fensterer, 474 U.S. 15, 20-22, 106 S.Ct. 292, 294-295, 88 L.Ed.2d 15 (1985) (witness memory lapse on one point; conviction upheld); Commonwealth v. Barbosa, 399 Mass. 841, 845-848, 507 N.E.2d 694 (1987) (deaf-mute victim testifying through interpreter; conviction upheld) with Commonwealth v. Funches, 379 Mass. 283, 292-293, 397 N.E.2d 1097 (1979) (direct testimony of witness who invoked the privilege against self-incrimination during cross-examination should have been struck where facts sought to be raised on cross-examination went to the essence of the defense); Commonwealth v. Johnson, 365 Mass. 534, 546-547, 313 N.E.2d 571 (1974), S.C., 372 Mass. 185 (1977) (eyewitness to murder refused out of fear to identify persons present at the scene and known to him; direct testimony should have been struck). Cf. Savage v. Birckhead, 37 Mass. (20 Pick.) 167, 172 (1838) (favorable deposition testimony should be struck if witness refuses to answer questions on cross-examination on matters within his knowledge).

Valerie's testimony was crucial to the prosecution's case, and her total refusal to cooperate on cross-examination was so prejudicial as to deny the defendant his constitutional right to cross-examine her. The issue in this case is not whether the defendant had an opportunity to cross-examine that was not exercised and hence waived. See 5 J. Wigmore, Evidence § 1371 at 55-56 (Chadbourn rev. ed. 1974 & Supp.1989). This case more closely parallels a case in which a witness declines to answer all relevant questions on cross-examination or, because of illness or otherwise, is unavailable for cross-examination. 5

Since the briefs in this case were filed, this court has decided Commonwealth v Amirault, 404 Mass. 221, 535 N.E.2d 193 (1989), involving a claim that indictments alleging rape and indecent assault and battery of a child should have been dismissed because the defendant's right to confrontation was denied. The court concluded that the opportunity to cross-examine the child witness was not denied where, in response to some of defense counsel's questions about matters to which she had earlier testified, the child witness stated that she did not remember.

In the Amirault opinion, the court distinguished cases involving a refusal to answer questions from the situation then before it. Id. at 234, 535 N.E.2d 193. We have reviewed the testimony of the child witness in the Amirault case and find it to be qualitatively different from Valerie's testimony. The seven-year-old witness in the Amirault case answered almost all questions asked of her, did not assert a lapse of memory as a general response to questions, and appears to have fully and willingly participated in the cross-examination to the best of her ability....

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