The Massachusetts "Guide" to Evidence

by Lee Gesmer on October 16, 2007

Courts, Litigation. Back in the early 1980s, when I was new to the Massachusetts Bar, there was an effort by the organized bar to codify the rules of evidence. That effort failed, and to this day the rules of evidence are a confusing patchwork of common law and legislative enactment. The “go to” source for the law of evidence has been, in the memory of almost all living Massachusetts attorneys, the Handbook of Massachusetts Evidence (8th Ed. 2006), by the former Chief Judge of the Supreme Judicial Court, Paul Liacos, and currently edited by Mark Brodin and Michael Avery. (The previous editions of this work were published in 1940, 1948, 1956, 1967 (when Justice Liacos took over), 1981 and 1993). However, the long-dead phoenix of evidence codification may be rising from the ashes, albeit in a slightly different form. In 2006 the SJC established an advisory committee to develop a “Guide” to evidence (not to be confused with “Rules” of evidence), and that Guide is now in its proposed form. The draft Massachusetts Guide to Evidence is available here (a 226 page pdf file).

Not surprisingly, the Guide makes unabashed and extensive use of the Proposed Rules of Evidence which, although never formally adopted, have been cited in Liacos and to trial courts since their “non-adoption” in 1982. Go figure.

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