Specific Act Propensity Evidence in Self-Defense Cases: A Two-Way Street or a Dead End?

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Vol: 48, Issue: 2, Page: 471

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In 2005, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Commonwealth v. Adjutant announced a new rule of evidence that allows a defendant raising self -defense to introduce evidence of specific acts of violent conduct that the victim is reasonably alleged to have initiated, when the identity of the first aggressor is in dispute. Left undecided, however, was whether a defendant's choice to take advantage of this new option would open the door to similar evidence of his or her own violent character. This Note argues that Massachusetts should adopt such a two-way street approach, similar to the treatment of character evidence under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Such a rule would allow for a more complete and balanced presentation of evidence to the jury and prevent the prosecution from being placed at an unfair disadvantage, while still maintaining important safeguards for the defendant.