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Commonwealth v. O'Brien

645 N.E.2d 1170 (1995)

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Commonwealth v. O'Brien

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

645 N.E.2d 1170 (1995)

Facts

Robert O’Brien (defendant) was charged with the murder of Sean Shanahan, an infant. The issue of when Sean started to exhibit cold symptoms was crucial to O’Brien’s case because O’Brien claimed that the symptoms were not of a cold but of a head injury. The prosecution (plaintiff) called the infant’s mother, Carol Shanahan, as a witness. On direct examination, Shanahan testified that she did not see Sean on October 2, the day he died, from the morning until around dinner time when she got home from work. She testified that at that point, Sean had a runny nose but no other cold symptoms. This testimony contrasted with a statement Shanahan gave to police on October 7, in which she stated that she had checked on Sean in the afternoon of October 2 and that he was wheezing, gasping, and hoarse. On cross-examination, O’Brien reiterated that she had not seen Sean on October 2 until the evening. Shanahan testified that she could not recall telling the police that she had checked on Sean in the afternoon or that Sean was wheezing, gasping, and hoarse. On redirect examination, Shanahan gave a reason for this inconsistency, stating that she was extremely upset on October 7 when she gave the statement to the police, having just buried her son. In response to this redirect, O’Brien sought to engage in recross-examination to ask Shanahan about a second statement she had made, in preparation for trial. This second statement, which was similar to Shanahan’s October 7 statement to the police and thus helpful to O’Brien, was not in evidence. The trial judge declined to permit the recross-examination, ruling that the subject matter was beyond the scope of the redirect examination because the redirect examination did not discuss the second statement. O’Brien was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and he appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Liacos, C.J.)

Dissent (O’Connor, J.)

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