In Commonwealth v. Mulgrave, the Supreme Judicial Court held for the first time that a text message could constitute an excited utterance under Massachusetts law. An excited utterance is an exception to the rule prohibiting the admission of hearsay. A statement qualifies as an excited utterance if it: (1) follows an occurrence or event sufficiently startling to render inoperative the normal reflective thought processes of the observer; and (2) the statement was a spontaneous reaction to the occurrence or event and not the result of reflective thought. The rationale that justifies this hearsay exception is that a person who has witnessed a shocking or traumatic event tends to speak what comes spontaneously to mind, without energy or disposition to invent lies so the statement may be deemed trustworthy for as long as the stress of the startling event continues. The court considers the following factors in determining the admissibility of a statement as an excited utterance: (1) the degree of excitement displayed by the declarant; (2) whether the statements are made at the scene of the traumatic event or elsewhere; (3) the temporal closeness of the statement to the act it explains; and (4) the degree of spontaneity, including whether the statements was volunteered by the declarant without the prompting of a question. Although the SJC has routinely ruled that written statements do no qualify as excited utterances given the fact that a written statement is generally not “spontaneous,” as it requires at least some reflective thought, the Court chipped away at this rule in the Mulgrave decision.
The facts of the case are as follows: the defendant and the victim in the case were married, but their relationship was deteriorating. During a heated argument between the two, the victim sent a text message to her son stating that “[the defendant] is threatening to kill me I am scared he said if I pick up the phone he will kill me.’” Six minutes after the victim sent the text message, she telephoned 911 and reported that the defendant was stabbing her. A few minutes after that, she was found barely breathing and lying in a pool of blood. She ultimately succumbed to her injuries. At trial, the Commonwealth sought to introduce the victim’s text message as evidence against the defendant. Continue reading →