The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today reversed a man’s conviction for stalking his ex-girlfriend, ruling that several errors committed by the judge prevented him from receiving a fair trial. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Torres.
The defendant met the alleged victim in March of 2014 and they began to date within a couple of weeks. In short order, they moved in together and according to the ex-girlfriend, the defendant physically and verbally abused her during the course of their relationship. They had broken up by the following August when the defendant went to the ex-girlfriend’s condo to speak to her. When the defendant received a text message from another woman, an argument ensued and, according to the ex-girlfriend, the defendant pushed her against the closet and head-butted her in the face which caused several of her teeth to break. The following year the defendant was indicted and charged with stalking, assault and battery causing serious bodily injury, strangulation or suffocation, assault with a dangerous weapon, and five counts of assault and battery. At trial, a superior court jury found the defendant guilty of stalking but not guilty of the other eight charges.
On appeal, the defendant complained about numerous errors he alleged were committed by the trial judge. The primary appellate issue dealt with the ex-girlfriend’s application for victim compensation from the Attorney General’s Office. The Massachusetts victim compensation statute allows a crime victim to apply for financial assistance if: she was injured by criminal conduct; and she cooperates with law enforcement authorities in the investigation and prosecution of the crime. In this case, the victim sought money to fix her teeth she alleges were broken by the defendant. The prosecutor had provided the defense attorney with a copy of the ex-girlfriend’s application just a couple of days before the trial and the defense attorney filed a motion seeking access to the Attorney General’s file regarding the ex-girlfriend’s application. The Attorney General’s Office objected to producing its file and the trial judge refused to order its production. The Supreme Judicial Court concluded the judge committed reversible error by refusing to hold a hearing to determine if the Attorney General’s Office should be required to produce the information pursuant to the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure. The SJC said the defendant had established that the ex-girlfriend’s compensation application was relevant to her truthfulness, and the defendant had a constitutional right to cross-examine the ex-girlfriend about money she was seeking that was related to the alleged crime. The trial judge relied on a section of the Massachusetts Code of Regulations that states information provided to the Attorney General’s Office by alleged victims seeking compensation is confidential. However, the SJC pointed out that confidential information may be subject to discovery orders when defendants can establish the relevancy of the information, which is what happened in this case.
The SJC concluded the trial judge committed multiple errors, including the issue involving the compensation application, that required the defendant’s conviction to be reversed. The case will be returned to Middlesex Superior Court for a new trial.