Commonwealth v. Abbott

Decision Date24 February 1881
Citation130 Mass. 472
PartiesCommonwealth v. Stearns K. Abbott
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Middlesex.

Exceptions overruled.

G Stevens & W. H. Bent, for the defendant.

G Marston, Attorney General, for the Commonwealth.

Colt J. Lord & Field, JJ., absent.

OPINION

Colt, J.

The defendant was indicted for the murder of Maria L. Crue at Groton in the month of January 1880. At the trial, in order to exculpate himself, and for the purpose of showing the existence of motive on the part of the husband of the deceased to commit the crime, he offered evidence that Crue and his wife quarrelled between the years 1873 and 1877, while living in Lexington; that, in 1874, he was seen entering his own house through a window with an axe in his hand, and immediately after, with the axe in his hand, uttered threats against his wife and a man not named; that the same man continued to frequent Crue's house as late as 1877, and Crue complained of it. He also offered to show that, in 1874 and 1877, Crue applied to a constable to come to his house and remove a man, who, as he alleged, was there for improper purposes with his wife. He further offered to prove the ill feeling of Crue towards his wife, by statements, which were not in the nature of threats, made to a witness in 1874 and 1877. There was evidence that the reputation of the deceased for chastity while living in Lexington, from 1873 to 1877, was bad. But there was no evidence affecting her reputation in that respect after she left that place in 1877. There was evidence uncontrolled, tending to show that, while living in Groton, from May 1879, her reputation was not questioned; and it appeared that Crue and his wife continued to live together as husband and wife up to the time of her death.

The evidence offered was excluded by the justices who presided at the trial; and the question on this bill of exceptions is, whether there was error in law in this ruling.

The rules which govern the admission of evidence apply with equal authority and force in criminal and civil proceedings. These rules must be received in all cases as the surest guide which the law affords for ascertaining the truth of any alleged matter of fact, and must be the same both on the criminal and civil side of the court, whatever the nature of the fact to be investigated. There can be no safe departure from them under the influence of a feeling of tenderness or humanity for persons charged with crime. Rose. Crim. Ev. (9th ed.) 1. 3 Russell on Crimes (9th ed.) 212. United States v. Britton, 2 Mason 464. 1 Greenl. Ev. § 65.

It is a cardinal rule governing the production of evidence, that the testimony offered must correspond to the allegations, and be relevant to the issue on trial. It is not necessary that the evidence should bear directly on the issue. It is sufficient if it tends to establish the issue, or constitutes a link in the chain of proof. But in order to be admissible, it must either alone, or in connection with other evidence produced, be capable of affording a reasonable presumption or inference as to the principal fact in dispute. The rule excludes all collateral facts which tend to divert the mind from the real question, and are calculated only to prejudice and mislead the jury. The existence of a criminal motive is an element which it is often necessary to establish in order to give character to the acts and conduct of a party charged with or suspected of crime. In such case, the conduct or declarations of a party, both before and after the principal fact in issue, are admissible, provided they are sufficiently near in point of time, and sufficiently significant of the motive or intent to be proved. The rules which govern human conduct are to be reasonably applied in these cases, as in all other investigations of fact. They are to be so applied in all cases where the inquiry is as to the mental or moral condition of a person at the time a particular act was done. The intent or disposition, when it constitutes an element of crime, can only be ascertained, as all moral qualities are, from the acts and declarations of the party.

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  • Horn v. State
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • September 30, 1903
    ...58 S.W. 1018; State v. Taylor, 136 Mo. 66, 37 S.W. 907; Underhill on Cr. Ev., 332; Gillett on Indirect & Coll. Ev., 54.) In Commonwealth v. Abbott, supra, Massachusetts court, after stating that as one step towards proving that some person other than the accused committed the crime, the lat......
  • Com. v. Reynolds
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • April 15, 1999
    ...Escobar in the murder. Id. at 399, 436 N.E.2d 912. Commonwealth v. Trefethen, 157 Mass. 180, 191, 31 N.E. 961 (1892). Commonwealth v. Abbott, 130 Mass. 472, 475-476 (1881). The bare statement that Escobar and the victim dealt drugs together lacks probative quality and would merely mislead t......
  • Com. v. Rosa
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • February 9, 1996
    ...a third party committed the crimes charged is a time-honored method of defending against a criminal charge. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Abbott, 130 Mass. 472, 475 (1881). Yet that trial tactic is, like any other, limited by the fundamental principle that evidence must be relevant. If the def......
  • Com. v. Weichell
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • September 2, 1983
    ...(1973). Evidence is to be admitted if it "tends to establish the issue" or "constitutes a link in the chain of proof." Commonwealth v. Abbott, 130 Mass. 472, 473 (1881). See Poirier v. Plymouth, 374 Mass. 206, 210, 372 N.E.2d 212 (1978). Proof of motive need not be by direct evidence but ma......
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