What Are the Odds: Applying the Doctrine of Chances to Domestic-Violence Prosecutions in Massachusetts

Michelle Byers

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Every day in Massachusetts, almost eighteen hundred victims seek help surviving domestic violence. Every year, over seven million women and men are victims of domestic violence across the United States. Many of these women and men are victims of continuing abuse by the same perpetrator. It is difficult to successfully prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence because the offense is intertwined with familiar and emotional relationships. The legal tools prosecutors have to combat domestic violence are limited and stand in the way of presenting a complete picture of the violence that goes on in an abusive domestic relationship.
In prosecuting domestic-violence cases, the Massachusetts criminal justice system needs the Doctrine of Chances. The Doctrine of Chances provides prosecutors a “non-character theory of logical relevance” that facilitates admission of prior acts of domestic violence to increase the probability that the instant crime cannot be explained away by accident or false accusation. Recognizing that domestic violence is cyclical in nature furthers what should be the goal of Massachusetts legal system: legal protections for domestic-violence victims that are equal to or greater than the protections afforded to defendants. If Massachusetts were to adopt the Doctrine of Chances, more victims of domestic violence would be provided the help they need and it would bring Massachusetts to the forefront of the nation as a leader in combating domestic violence.
46 New Eng. L. Rev. 551

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